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Serbia: The First Anniversary Of NATO's Arrival In Kosovo

  • Jolyon Naegele

Today marks the first anniversary of the deployment of NATO forces in Kosovo and the withdrawal of Serbian forces from the province following 78 days of air strikes against Yugoslavia. RFE/RL correspondent Jolyon Naegele reports that Pristina's celebrations are shadowed by the recent spate of violence against Serbs.

Pristina, 12 June 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Last night, tens of thousands of Pristina residents gathered in a stadium to salute the now disbanded Kosovo Liberation Army, the UCK.

Several hundred former UCK servicemen, who are now disarmed members of a civil defense group known as the Kosovo Defense Force, stood on the soccer field as their present and former commander, General Agim Ceku, celebrated what he termed the "great joint victory" of the UCK and NATO:

"On this occasion, I want to thank the Americans, the British, and all the other members of the alliance who helped Kosovo and, through the air campaign, supported our war. Here I have to mention the names of U.S. President Bill Clinton, Secretary of State Madeline Albright, and General Wesley Clark."

Turning to the present, Ceku said violence is the most worrying issue now facing Kosovo, one year after the end of the fighting. Recent weeks have seen numerous acts of arson, grenade attacks, and drive-by shootings, in which Serbs were the targets in most cases. Ceku said the violence shows there are still elements present who do not want Kosovo to have a good future. He called on all residents to condemn violence, try to stop it, and bring the perpetrators to justice.

Ceku's call appears to be stronger than last week's call by former UCK political leader Hashim Thaci, now the head of the Democratic Party of Kosovo, for "all citizens of Kosovo to refrain from and denounce all violent acts."

But the strongest statement against violence came from the UCK's former political representative, Adem Demaci, who now heads the Association for Culture and Tolerance. Demaci provoked a burst of whistles and dissent from the mainly young audience at the stadium when he called for tolerance toward Kosovo's Serbs.

"Today I call on all of you to join another battle, the battle for peace, for the future, for coexistence. Do not forget the Serbian people who remain today in Kosovo. They are in a difficult position. Not even the Serbian regime likes their presence here. Help them. They are depressed and scared and it is up to you to create safe conditions and freedom for them. Only then will you be able to enjoy your own freedom."

The concert that followed the speeches was not quite in harmony with Demaci's message -- it featured UCK war songs. A modern dance troupe dressed in UCK battle fatigues performed a brief ballet in honor of UCK co-founder and chief martyr, Adem Jashari.

The music sent hundreds of children and college students onto the field to dance the Balkan round dance Albanian, and wave the Albanian flag as the singer recounted Jashari's exploits in Kosovo's central Drenica region.

In early March of 1998, Serbian forces surrounded the Jashari family compound in the village of Prekaz in Kosovo's central Drenica region and launched a four-day siege, ending in the deaths of some 60 people.

All but four of the victims were members of the extended Jashari family. They are buried in their own cemetery at the edge of Prekaz.

Their graves are heaped with wreaths, and a Kosovo Defense Force soldier stands guard. Two of the Jashari houses, roofless and riddled with huge shell holes, are now surrounded by scaffolding, enabling visitors to clamber around the houses without going inside.

Up to 40 buses a day filled with pilgrims make the journey down a bumpy country road to Prekaz to what has become post-war Kosovo's chief shrine. On the eve of the first anniversary of Kosovo's liberation, more than a dozen vendors of soft drinks and biscuits were doing a thriving business along the boardwalk between the parking lot and the Jashari cemetery.

Elsewhere in Drenica, it was just another day of postwar reconstruction. In Polac, five members of the Zani family are trying to make ends meet, living in makeshift wooden huts and gardening. They paid their neighbors 70 German marks to assemble the hut for them from a prefabricated emergency housing kit.

In the course of 1998 and 1999, Serbian forces killed the Zanis' cow, set their tractor on fire, and completely gutted their four-room cottage. They are dependent on assistance from aid agencies.

The Zanis say the family has neither the money nor the labor to rebuild. Some 40 of their beehives survived the war and are swarming with bees, but the only family member skilled at extracting the honey from these old wattle and daub hives was one of the six male members of the Zani family who have been missing since May last year. One, Mexhid, is known to be in a prison in Serbia . The fate of the other five men, Veton, aged 18; Artan, 20; Tefik, 28; Qazim, 55; and Hamit, 60, is unknown.

Despite their suffering, the disappearance of her father, uncle, brothers, and cousins, a surviving Zani woman says she is happy that at least she is home on her own land and not living in exile. But she notes the first anniversary of the end of the war brings mixed emotions.

"With six members of the family still missing, we cannot feel the freedom. It is hard for us."

Another of the survivors, Sabid Zani, insists none of the missing were members of the UCK. Sabid suffered leg injuries after the war after stepping on a small mine.

Up the hill, workers are putting the finishing touches on the village school, burned down by the Serbs just over a year ago. Rows of tents, each one housing a classroom, are due to be gradually phased out starting this week. Where formerly 1,200 pupils from Polac and nearby villages studied here, today there are only 700. Most of the rest are abroad

A biology teacher, Bate Villi, says that teaching the remaining children has become very difficult. Villi says some of her pupils witnessed some or all of their family members murdered by the Serbs.

"They are very traumatized. Before the war, discipline was high, the level of learning was higher."

Villi says Polac had 500 families before the war. She says all but one house was destroyed.

Polac is one of the areas where NATO deployed Russian KFOR troops. UCK and local residents initially opposed the Russian presence, alleging that Russian mercenaries had fought with Serbian paramilitaries.

Now, one year later, anti-Russian sentiment has died down somewhat, though isolated attacks against Russian soldiers continue to occur. As the biology teacher puts it, "There is no hatred here towards the Russian soldiers anymore, they are just like any other soldiers -- they were sent here not of their own will."