Liberation of Kosovo: Serbs in Kosovo - Serbs start returning to live in denial

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AT A SMALL circular table in front of his cafe, the Brooklyn Bar, Dusko Galic was sipping an espresso and defending his people. "They blame us Serbs for everything," he said, shrugging his fat shoulders. "We are the usual suspects. People have the wrong idea, they only ever listen to the Albanians. It's always the Albanians, the Albanians, the Albanians."

Mr Galic, a businessman since he was 19, is the owner of what was, before the Nato bombing started, an exclusively Serbian cafe in the centre of Pristina. Now his customers are a mixture of Serbs and aid agency officials. There were even a couple of Albanians sitting there yesterday morning as life in the Kosovo capital continued to drag itself back to some sort of normality. But that is not the way Mr Galic sees the future, nor perhaps, the way he wants it.

Certainly, lots of Serbs have left Kosovo through fear of retribution but they are already coming back. And once they have all returned, then his cafe will be Serb once again. In a city where many of the Serb population are now genuinely terrified, Mr Galic was bullish and outspoken. "I am not afraid to be a Serb. I am not afraid of revenge," he claimed, with not a little bravado. "I did not burn any Albanian houses. And anyway the Serbs only burnt houses because of their struggle with the KLA - it was not systematic burning. I have not been threatened, and I would not leave anyway. This will never be an Albanian city. This city is the heart of the Serb people. If the Albanian people want independence there will be many victims - many dead people."

Whether Mr Galic, a short, thick-set man with gelled hair and a mobile phone glued to his palm, was telling the truth was hard to fathom. He claimed, for example, that in the three months or so he spent in Pristina during the Nato bombing he did not see one Albanian family forced from their home. ("Many families left, but they left because they were afraid, not because they were forced. The clever ones stayed.") But it was not even clear whether Mr Galic believed what he was saying himself.

Elsewhere in Pristina, those Serbs who remain are keeping a much lower profile, their mind-set a mixture of fear and resentment. Half a mile from the city centre, Vesna Djokic was at work in one of the few Serbian shops still operating in the capital. At first she was reluctant to say anything, nervously glancing over her shoulder and visibly shaking as she tried to light her cigarette. In a store room at the back of the shop she spoke openly of her terror. "Many of my friends have left because they are afraid. Some of their apartments have been robbed," she said, distractedly brushing away non-existent dust from her smart purple blouse. "Just yesterday two soldiers from the KLA came in here in uniform. I jumped when they came in even though they did not have guns.

"During the bombing I tried to help everybody - Serb and Albanian. In the days when it was hard to find bread I gave bread to everyone, regardless of who they were. Now I just want it to be safe for everybody."

It is easy to understand Mrs Djokic's fear. As she was speaking a Serb customer entered the store and described how just the day before four armed KLA soldiers had held up a Serb motorist and tried to steal his car before another Albanian intervened. No, he hadn't seen it himself or spoken directly to anyone who had but he didn't doubt it. In the same way he didn't doubt the story about a Serb from an apartment block just around the corner being kidnapped on Sunday afternoon by members of the KLA. Mrs Djokic was listening eagerly, presumably to pass on the information to her next customer.

The Serbs are happy to believe these reports, just as they refuse to accept others. Like Mr Galic, Mrs Djokic claimed no Albanians had been forced from their homes by the paramilitaries. Like Mr Galic, Mrs Djokic believes the Albanians have brought this tragedy upon themselves - demanding too much when they "had so much already".

A couple of Serbian students studying at the university laughed loudly yesterday at mention of last week's discovery of a torture room by K-For troops beneath the headquarters of the police building. "It was rubbish - there was no blood or anything," said one. "The weapons they found there were just things the police had confiscated from children. That is their job."

On the streets of Pristina, the K-For troops on patrol as part of Operation Joint Guardian appear genuine in their commitment to trying to help create an environment that is safe for both Albanians and Serbs. They talk of how they are trying to be fair to both communities - confiscating weapons from both the KLA and any Serbs they stop at road-blocks who are still carrying arms.

But for K-For and whatever UN body that takes initial control of Pristina, it will be much more difficult to stop the climate of rumour and suspicion that permeates the city. It will be more difficult still to make people accept what really happened.