Kosovo Crisis: `We're waiting for the bombs'

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WAR CAME to the capital of Kosovo yesterday for the first time since the conflict began in the rolling hills a year ago, as Serb police surrounded Albanian neighbourhoods, smashed down doors in search of weapons and beat any men unlucky enough to be found.

Pristina was crawling witharmed police. We decided to drive north. A few miles away, we spotted houses ablaze on the hillside and stopped, just as 50-odd dilapidated army vehicles rolled by. A soldier in a black mask, atop an armoured personnel carrier, flashed us the three-fingered Serb salute. He was all smiles. But then a car screeched to a halt and out jumped a civilian armed with a Kalashnikov. "It's OK," we said, as calmly as possible. "We're journalists." He inspected our Yugoslav press cards, and then waved us on.

Fear is not confined to the Albanian population in Kosovo. The Serb minority lives here in terror of the KLA. But most of the victims are Albanian. The red-tiled houses on the southern edge of Pristina were emptying fast as families left, carrying back-packs and plastic bags, to the sound of artillery booming to the west.

But Mustafa Pacoli lay under a blanket, unable to move after a visit from the police. He is 82.

"They hit him on the head with that," his daughter Sevdije said, pointing to a small wooden table. "They were shouting, `Where are your sons? Where is your gun? Your sons are in the KLA'."

Back in Pristina, two Serb policemen killed by the Albanians were buried. "The situation is explosive, everyone is waiting for the [Nato] bombing," said Maliq Gashi, at the funeral of Arianit Kelmendi, an Albanian killed in a retaliatory attack on a cafe.

"When the Serbs leave a place they always destroy it first ... I'm afraid they will do it in Kosovo."