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Yugoslavia: Beatings Of Gorans Heighten Ethnic Tensions

There is wide knowledge of the harsh treatment facing Serbs and Roma in Kosovo. But RFE/RL's Jolyon Naegele visits the southwestern Gora region and reports that the local Goran minority is also facing harsh treatment at the hands of ethnic Albanians. He files this report from the district capital, Dragash.

Dragash, Kosovo; 24 August 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Gora is one of the least populated and most inaccessible districts in Kosovo. The area encompasses a cluster of mountains and steep valleys wedged between Albania and Macedonia that are home to two ethnic groups -- the Albanians and the Gorans.

The Gorans are a small minority who, according to the last census in 1991, numbered about 20,000 in Gora and a further 25,000 elsewhere in the former Yugoslavia. They speak a transitional Serbo-Macedonian dialect and were largely converted to Islam from Orthodoxy in the early 18th century. The Gorans have their own customs and traditions, but share some folk customs with their Albanian neighbors.

At the outset of the NATO airstrikes against Yugoslavia last March, Serbian authorities launched a selective campaign of expulsions and retentions. In the local Albanian villages, mainly in the northern parts of Dragash district, Serbian forces expelled all the Albanians on March 30, giving them 30 minutes to pack and leave. The Serbs forced most of the Gorans to stay by issuing their men mobilization orders.

But some Gorans also went to Belgrade to demonstrate against NATO air strikes and in support of the regime of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. This did not endear them to their Albanian neighbors in exile in Macedonia and Albania.

The Turkish KFOR commander in Dragash, Izzet Cetingoz, says that when his forces arrived in the district, anger among ethnic Albanians toward the Gorans was pronounced.

"When we arrived here more than one month ago it was said among the [Albanians] that some of the Gorans had supported the Serb military here during the war. They alleged that some of them had taken part with the Serb paramilitary forces in their activities. ....There was a very strong repression against these people and the Albanians were saying that the Gorans were all Serb collaborators and were putting a lot of pressure on them. We managed to stop this repression and bring these two groups together and start a dialog."

Cetingoz notes that the Gorans insist they are innocent of any collaboration with the Serbs or wrongdoing against the Albanians. He says the Albanians should accept that whatever crimes were committed were individual rather than collective.

A Gora intellectual, speaking to RFE/RL on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution, says there is no evidence that Gorans killed, raped or burned down anyone's house during the war.

German KFOR troops, who control southwestern Kosovo, gave the Dragash district low priority on the grounds that ethnic relations, though difficult, were nowhere near as tense as elsewhere in the German zone such as in Prizren, Suva Reka, and Orahovac. Several weeks after KFOR began moving into Kosovo in June, Turkish KFOR troops were deployed in Dragash.

A German KFOR spokesman in Prizren told RFE/RL over the weekend that all minorities in Kosovo regardless of their size are under pressure to leave the province.

The spokesman says the ethnic Albanian Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK) appears to be building up pressure to create an ethnically pure Albanian Kosovo -- first by chasing out the Serbs and Roma and subsequently the Turks and Gora.

As a result, the area has experienced what Gora residents say were several dozen ethnically-based incidents. These included redistribution in Dragash of Goran-owned apartments in one building to Albanian families.

Many Gorans have emigrated this year to other parts of Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Italy, and Austria. The outflow began the day the air strikes started on March 24 but turned into a flood after the fighting ended. More than half the estimated 20,000 Gorans in Gora have left. The massive outflow is caused by economic as well as security reasons. Most Gorans are now unemployed.

The Goran intellectual says he will not flee and would prefer to share a common life with Kosovo's Serbs and Albanians. But his bloodshot eyes and tense face all betray his fear of what lies ahead.

He and other remaining Gorans say they are not satisfied with how they are being protected by KFOR. In his words, German KFOR troops sit in bars in Dragash and Prizren and ridicule how their French counterparts in Mitrovica are unable to resolve the Serb-Albanian divisions in Mitrovica in northern Kosovo while they themselves are failing to prevent ethnic harassment in their own zone.

As in many other parts of Kosovo, UN police have been slow in taking up their duties in Gora. Although 50 UN police officers are supposed to be patrolling Gora, only one has arrived so far.

Last Friday was market day in Dragash. A number of Albanians dressed all in black descended on the town from nearby villages and in the course of the day beat up some seven Gorans.

One UN official, speaking on condition of anonymity, says the UCK organized Friday's assaults in Dragash, sending people into bars and shops to stir up trouble by accusing Gorans of being "paramilitaries" or of having collaborated with the Serbs. Turkish KFOR troops intervened in at least two instances, questioning but releasing those involved and telling them not to return to Dragash. However, at UN insistence Turkish soldiers detained four men -- two Albanians and two Gorans and took them for further questioning.

The UN and KFOR called a meeting that evening with ethnic Albanian and Goran representatives in a bid to cool tensions and asked the UCK to keep its men out of Dragash.

The UCK rejects the allegations made by UN staffers. A local UCK spokesman, squad commander Ymredin Halimi, tells RFE/RL that Friday's incidents were between civilians and had nothing to do with the UCK. But asked what reassurance the UCK can offer the Gorans, Halimi says the Gorans must decide their own fate:

"We lived together with the Gorans for centuries. But they did not flee with us when we fled. We were pushed to flee from our homes. But they remained and supported the Serb regime."

Some UN officials criticize the Turkish KFOR soldiers in Dragash for failing to stop many incidents or crack down on crime. As with most other KFOR units throughout Kosovo, the Turkish battalion lacks police training to deal with such incidents.

But the UN officials say that had the Turkish soldiers not been present in Dragash on Friday the violence would have been far worse. As one UN official put it, international forces must quickly provide better security for minorities. Otherwise, he says, "more terror will come."