Liberation Of Kosovo: Divided City - Serb civilians killed as bad blood flows

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The Independent Online
THE OLD man, unshaven and wearing a flat cap, sat at a table in Kosovo's only Serbian Orthodox seminary and described how he found his wife lying in their blood-filled bedroom only a few hundred yards away in the heart of Prizren's ancient Ottoman quarter.

"I went out shopping on Monday afternoon," said Trifa Stamenkovic, 77, "and when I came back I couldn't find Marica. A patrol of German soldiers from K-For was passing, and I asked them to help me look. Two soldiers came into the house with me, and when we came to the door of the bedroom, I saw my wife's legs sticking out and blood everywhere. The Germans wouldn't let me in but they called the military police to come and photograph the body."

Almost at the same moment Marija Filipovic, 59, was returning to her house in the same street after going to the municipal offices to seek news of her son, Zarko, a Serbian army soldier captured by the Kosovo Liberation Army. The neighbours told her the KLA had attacked her husband, Panta, in their house. "They chopped the back of his neck with an axe," she said. "He was still alive when the German soldiers took him to hospital, but he died half an hour later."

Marica Stamenkovic and Panta Filipovic were buried in the town's Orthodox cemetery on Wednesday, with only their spouses and a few German soldiers present. Fr Nikola Bozanic, the last remaining Serbian Orthodox priest in Prizren, could not officiate. "Someone who knew everything about me phoned and said that if I went to the funeral they would kill me," he said yesterday in his office next to the cathedral.

These are dangerous times for Serbs in Kosovo, and especially in Prizren, the most picturesque town in the province. Its unequalled stone architecture, declared a World Heritage Site by Unesco, escaped Nato bombing and the Serbian reign of terror which destroyed the nearby towns of Djakovica and Pec, but Albanians are taking their revenge all the same. The seminary is only a couple of hundred yards from the cathedral, but two German soldiers escort Fr Nikola every time he makes the journey.

More than 70 Serbs have taken refuge at the seminary, where they are guarded by the Germans. Most are peasants from villages around the town, who tell sinkingly familiar stories. "The soldiers came and beat us, saying they knew we were hiding arms," said Mirjana Stefanovic, 63, who had fled Ljubizde village a week ago. "They said: `Why don't you leave Kosovo?' " The crucial difference is that the soldiers are from the KLA, behaving towards innocent Serbs the way Slobodan Milosevic's men acted before they were forced out of Kosovo.

Spira Kijacic, 79, had a wound on his head where he had been hit with a gun butt. "Why was I hit? Because I am a Serb," he said. "They smashed everything - doors, windows, furniture. The young people of the village were all in the army, and they left with their families when the forces withdrew. We older people were the only ones left."

The hapless refugees of the Prizren seminary are the last victims of Mr Milosevic's policy of creating ethnic divisions to seize and hold power. Monday is the 10th anniversary of his famous speech to almost a million Serbs at Kosovo Polje, which celebrated his rise but which also heralded the collapse Yugoslavia.

In his office, Fr Nikola takes calls from desperate Serbs still living in their homes, who complain of constant threats, looting, and beatings. "That woman told me they are stealing everything," he says, replacing the receiver. "When people like that call me, I don't know what to say to them because it is the policies of Milosevic that have brought us to this situation. The church can't tell people to leave Prizren, but nor can it tell them to stay, because we can't protect them."

Every other Serbian Orthodox cleric has fled the town since one of their number was kidnapped. Fr Nikola says he feels an obligation to remain. "I have lived here for 40 years," he said. "Everyone knows me. I am not afraid of people from Prizren, but the Albanian border is open, and all kinds of people are coming in."

This is a sentiment echoed by local Albanians, who insist that any trouble in Prizren is the fault of outsiders.

Nobody knows who killed Marica Stamenkovic and Panta Filipovic, but both couples had been visited several times and threatened at gunpoint by KLA men. "It is possible that the KLA did it, but we are still investigating," said Lieutenant-Colonel Dietmar Jeserich, spokesman for the German element in K-For.

"We have 82 people in prison accused of serious crimes, including the rape of an Albanian woman."

Lt-Col Jeserich insisted that the German army was doing its best to protect Serbs in Prizren. "We have 40 men responsible for this small area of the old town," he said, "but you have to remember that the Serbs had 13,000 troops and another 13,000 police and paramilitaries, and they were not able to secure this region."