Liberation Of Kosovo: Germans in struggle to gain control

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THE OPERATION seemed to go according to Nato's plan. The Serbs left Prizren, the Albanians partied and the resistance fighters came home. But all was not well in the city last night.

There were still well-armed pockets of Serb forces and armed civilians, the partying threatened to turn violent and the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) did not give up its arms. Instead, the fighters "liberated" many areas and took control of main roads.

German forces, supposed to be in charge of southern Kosovo, appeared at a loss as to how to control the remaining armed Serbs, the celebrating Albanians and the KLA men who emerged from cellars and mountains to claim victory.

The Germans were not in control of the roads out of Prizren. The main road from Albania was blocked throughout yesterday by at least 300 Serb paramilitaries described by German officers as "dangerously drunk". Four miles outside the city, on the road north to the Kosovo capital, Pristina, there were KLA fighters but no Germans.

Tens of thousands of Albanians remained in the mountains, awaiting a sense of security before they came down to their mostly destroyed homes.

In the morning, a Yugoslav armoured personnel carrier pulled up face- to-face with a German Leopard tank. The two stood within eight yards of each other, guns facing, with the German crew appearing tense and the Serbs looking cocky, smoking one cigarette after another.

The Serbs were demanding German army security for a massive convoy of Serb soldiers, paramilitaries, police and civilian families who had lined up along the northern banks of the Bistrica river and in the winding streets of old Prizren, afraid to drive past the Albanians without an escort.

For hours, the Serbs sat in or beside their vehicles, packed with their belongings, including furniture, while Albanians strolled past them above the banks of the Bistrica. At first, their was no hostility and some elderly Albanians stopped to greet their about-to-be-former neighbours.

After witnessing the exodus of Kosovo Albanians in April and May, there was an overpowering irony in the sight of Serbian families packed on to the back of tractors and lorries, with newly homeless women and children peering out of the back. The faces were similar although the Serbs were carrying far more possessions than the Albanians ever had.

But when the convoy of about 500 vehicles pulled out, younger Albanians no longer held back their feelings. They pounded the passing vehicles with stones and yelled obscenities. That was when the mutual anger showed. Even little girls inside the departing Serb cars held up three-fingered Serb victory signs towards the Albanian crowd lining the streets. It said a lot about how Serbs really felt towards their Albanian neighbours.

Masar Kuksi, a local Albanian, was about to throw a stone at a passing car when he realised it was his own white Audi. "Lopovi [thieves]," he shouted as the crowd joined in. "Gypsies," yelled others. More and more of the crowd recognised their cars departing.

The previous night, thousands more Serbs had left the city while Albanians were abiding by an unofficial curfew. It felt eerie to sit on the front steps of a hotel watching Serb soldiers and civilians sneak out in virtual silence from a land they had controlled for so long.

Within minutes of the departure of the Serbs' daytime convoy, all hell broke loose. Long bursts of gunfire erupted near the hotel. When we got to the scene, we found the windows of a local cafe smashed in by celebrating Albanians. The Cafe Sfinga had been a favourite watering hole for Serb paramilitaries until the German forces arrived.

Men in tracksuits suddenly produced AK-47 rifles or automatic pistols and emptied their magazines in the air. The KLA had come out from underground. Then local youths broke into another cafe, the Oasis, on Prizren's main Shadrvan square, and put on loud Turkish music while other young men fired more guns. Many Prizren Albanians are of Turkish origin and still speak the language.

Four miles north of Prizren, in the village of Gorisha close to where Nato mistakenly killed scores of Kosovars rounded up by the Serbs with their tractors, we found dozens of KLA guerrillas who had just come down from the mountains after the Serb convoy passed.

They said they had fought a long gun battle with the Serbs who had departed during the night.

Zenel Ahmetaj was starting to clean up his totally burnt-out villa, torched by the Serbs before they left, and was expecting his family to come down from the mountains in a day or two once they were sure the Serbs had gone. He said there were 10,000 people in the wooded mountains directly above Gorisha alone.