In an ironic turn, some Kosovar Albanians are lining up outside the Yugoslav representative's office in Pristina in the hope of receiving a Yugoslav passport. Many had their passports ripped up earlier this year by Serbian military forces. But now they see reacquiring the document as their only hope to travel outside the province -- something many are desperate to do. Alexandra Poolos files this report from Pristina.
Pristina, Kosovo; 3 November 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Every day, numerous Kosovar Albanians gather outside the office of the Yugoslav government representative, hidden on a small side street in Pristina. They often wait two to three days to get inside the doors, which are closely guarded by NATO.
Kosovar Albanians, forced from the province by Serbian paramilitaries just a few months ago, now find themselves turning to Yugoslav officials for help in leaving Kosovo again. They say applying for a Yugoslav passport is their best chance to travel outside Kosovo's borders.
Many of the Albanians in the regular queues hate the idea of being officially identified as Yugoslav nationals. They call it demoralizing after all that happened during the war. For many, however, there is no other choice.
One man told RFE/RL he had traveled from Prizren to wait for a passport so he can go to Turkey. He refused to give his name, saying he was afraid of repercussions from other Albanians who might think him a traitor to Kosovo. The only provider for a family of 12, the 29-year-old says he must go to Turkey to buy textiles and other goods to build a business in Prizren. He says he needs the passport "just to earn some money to live."
"I hope I will get my passport, but I think it is a mistake I am waiting for this passport. Because we are waiting to take the passport of Serbs, who have been our enemies. We have fought against them, you know. It is unsafe. I would like to have my own country's passport."
That man is lucky -- he still has some identification documents to prove he is a Kosovar. Others waiting in the lines have no identification, as their papers were destroyed by Serbian forces during the war.
Mevlude Gashi, a woman from Pristina waiting in the line outside the office, says that even Kosovars who have no documents at all can get a passport from the Yugoslav office.
"They are interested in money. And they will give passports to anybody, you know. They don't care if [the applicants] have documents."
Gashi says she wants to visit her brother who is dying of cancer in Germany.
Luigi Bicolli, an 18-year-old refugee living in Sweden, has come back to Pristina to try to get a passport for his brother, who was wounded during the war. Shot in the leg, Bicolli's brother has been languishing in a Macedonian hospital since summer. Bicolli says he is trying to get his brother to Sweden. He is afraid that his brother will lose his leg if he does not get proper medical treatment. He was less optimistic about getting the necessary document in Pristina.
"I do not think I will get a visa [for my brother] here, but I am planning to get one in a Swedish embassy in Skopje because of the war they will not give visas here."
Shah Subhadayak is an official in the civil documents department of the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK). He says many Kosovars are confused about where to go for travel documents. He says UNMIK is providing documents, but only for medical emergencies.
"We have issued plenty, but many people are coming. But actually we are not issuing passports or visas. But people are confused and there are long queues asking for passports. But we are not now issuing any passports or visas because we have not yet decided to issue that. It will take some time, but not now."
Subhadayak says the UN cannot issue separate passports for Kosovars because the international community still considers Kosovars as Yugoslav nationals. Kosovo, he says, is not a country yet.
But for many living in the province's rural areas, these legalisms are not so important. Often stranded without adequate medical care, housing, or food, these Kosovars just want to get out. Not only do many of these villagers lack identification, many have never been treated for their war injuries.
Shehrije Xhelil Deliu lives in Rezalla, a village deep in the hills of the central Drenica region. Hobbling around her small tent site on a dirty crutch, Deliu describes how she was shot in the leg by Serbian paramilitaries last April.
"We were around 30 people in the garden when three Serbian policemen came to our house. We went crazy with fear. They came and they took us and the children were screaming. ... Then the police came one meter from us and one of them started to shoot. I had my nephew in my arms. He was six years old. From the shootings, my other nephew has been killed. He was 12. And the child I was keeping in my arms was wounded by three bullets -- one in the stomach and two in his shoulders. I also have been wounded by three bullets in my leg."
Only 23, Deliu already has streaks of gray in her dark hair. She says the pain is growing as the temperature drops and she worries that she will lose her leg if she doesn't receive proper medical help before winter. She lives in a dirt-floored tent with 10 others. They have limited heating and only flour and beans for food.
Deliu says a KFOR soldier promised her that he would send someone to look after her. She is hoping he won't forget.