NY Times
In riot-torn Kosovo city, Serbs force Albanians from homes

By CARLOTTA GALL

February 12, 2000


MITROVICA, Kosovo, Feb. 11 -- Despite the presence of several hundred added peacekeeping troops, Serbs continue to threaten ethnic Albanians who live among them on the northern side of Mitrovica. The Serbs are forcing the Kosovars to leave their houses and take refuge in the city's Albanian half, south of the Ibar River.

Groups of Albanians, carrying bags of clothes, were seen crossing over on foot today. Three middle-age couples said that they had received telephoned threats through the night and that by morning people people were banging on their doors. The couples said they believed that the United Nations police could offer little hope of protection and left.

A week after Serbs rampaged through the northern part of town, killing eight Albanians and forcing 120 to flee, the exodus continues, perhaps more quietly, but at a similar pace of 120 to 150 a day. The Serbs, outraged at a rocket attack on a Serbian bus that killed two and a grenade attack on a cafe that injured 15, said the rampage was a moment of anger.

But international observers and the police said the violence possessed a certain method and organization. Ensuing actions show a similar pattern. Apartment buildings have been made targets, and the resident Albanian families have been persuaded, ordered or frightened to leave.

Although some Albanians appear determined to hang on, the continued Albanian movement southward, even if temporarily, bodes ill for coexistence here. Residents voice the belief that the plan of President Slobodan Milosevic of Yugoslavia has all along been partition Kosovo and retain the northern part, along with its minerals and mines.

"His endgame was to carve out a region in the north where Serbs could predominate," David L. Phillips of the International Conflict Resolution Program at Columbia University said. "It now looks like he is succeeding."

At least 820 Albanians, a third of those who had been living in the northern side of the city, have fled since the violence erupted a week ago, said Claire Bourgeois, head of the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees here. Only a few families have ventured back home.

"I had hoped it would stop," Ms. Bourgeois said of the exodus. "But people are still under threat, and it is starting to be too much for them."

The expulsions occur as the commissioner for refugees warned in a new report on minority communities in Kosovo that the situation was deteriorating. "Over all, with some limited exceptions, the situation has not improved since the last report was issued," in November, the report said."And in many instances, deteriorating conditions were noted."

Virtually all the attacks on minorities are committed by Albanians on Serbs, Roma, Muslim Slavs, Turks and others, many of whom live in protected enclaves. Only in Mitrovica are Albanians still persecuted.

The head of the commission on refugees, Dennis McNamara, made an impassioned plea for more Western aid and resources to combat crime. He also called for more moral commitment from the West, in particular to pressure Albanian and Serbian leaders to use their influence to stop the violence.

Ms. Bourgeois said some of the families who were visited were pleased with the presence of the extra troops and felt safer. Several hundred additional troops have been brought in to reinforce the French troops who are in command of the city. British troops guarded the main bridge today. Yet there was not an overwhelming troop presence on the streets in the northern sectors.

Two French soldiers at a main intersection said they had no idea whether Albanian families were in the area. "I'm not really sure why we are here," one said.

A schoolteacher, Elvane Kachanika, and her husband, Muhedin, a couple in their 50's, walked over the main bridge that divides the town just before dusk, carrying their belongings in several bags.

"They called last night by telephone," Ms. Kachanika said of the Serbs. "They said, 'Are you still there?' I don't even try to argue. I just hung up. Then today they came banging on the apartment door."

An estimated 1,500 Albanians still live on the northern side, many old and vulnerable, said the commissioner on refugees. "There are a lot of elderly people," Ms. Bourgeois said. "They are staying because they are attached to their belongings."




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