Kosovars suffer new ethnic hatred

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AZEMI ELIAS thought the insults of Serb border police were the last he would have to endure. A 32-year-old Kosovar Albanian car mechanic, he had crossed into Macedonia with his wife and children, was nibbling on some cheese in the border refugee camp in Blace and was glad to be alive.

He had reckoned without the Macedonian police.

"Your papers!" shouted a police colonel who later refused to give me his name but is known as Miki. Azemi's two sons, Buyar, five, and Behan, three, cowered on the blanket where they were eating their first decent food in days. They had heard that demand so many times on their long trek to the border from their home in the Kosovo village of Laskovari. They had also cowered in beneath the floorboards of their house when Serbian paramilitary troops shot out their windows and robbed their parents of everything they had.

"But I just gave them to you coming in, officer," said Azemi. "Show them again!" insisted the colonel. Azemi did. "And watch what you're saying to that reporter!" barked the colonel, fingering the Serb-made CZ-99 pistol in his holster.

Azemi had just told me that Serb police and paramilitary troops were forcing Kosovar Albanian men to live on sites - including schoolyards and hospital grounds - where they were hiding tanks, field guns and ammunition. A short while later "Miki" and another officer hauled me off to the camp gates to check my identity.

Kosovar Albanians find no welcome in Blace. Their Macedonian neighbours, except for the ethnic Albanian minority, leave them in no doubt that they are unwanted. Historic tension between the majority Slavs and the ethnic Albanian Macedonians and the Kosovar Albanians is running higher than ever.

There is talk of yet another civil war in the former Yugoslavia, regardless of what happens in Kosovo. Slav Macedonians say their country's ethnic Albanians are well-armed. That did not worry them when they knew they could rely on the federal Yugoslav army. Now, with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's men at least pinned down and, according to Nato, badly "degraded", Macedonia's Slavs are worried that the ethnic Albanians would have the upper hand in a civil conflict.

The only thing the Macedonian government and police, supported by the Slav majority, don't like about the Serb's "ethnic cleansing" of Kosovar Albanians is the fact that many of the Serbs' victims have ended up here. Macedonia wants them to move on as fast as international humanitarian flights can pack them in.

"They stink. They don't wash. They don't abide by our laws," said my Macedonian taxi driver, a Slav. "And they breed like rabbits. They're all after a Greater Albania, including western Macedonia, even the west bank of the Vardar river [through the capital, Skopje]." He was not a Serb but, like the majority in Macedonia, left no doubt he supported Mr Milosevic and opposed the Nato bombing. His keyring bore the double eagle symbol of Serbia's hardline Chetnik nationalists and their motto: "Only unity saves the Serbs."

He was proud that he and his fellow Skopje taxi drivers were going to drive to Serbia tomorrow to donate their blood to victims of the bombing. This, after all, is the city where the locals attacked the US embassy after the Nato operation began.

On Saturday night, I had witnessed a street brawl in Skopje. It started as a drunken fight between an ethnic Albanian and a Slav but soon a dozen men were involved. Between kicks and blows, ethnic slurs were exchanged. Locals said such scenes were happening nightly since the refugee crisis began almost two months ago.