Numbed by fatigue and fear, the refugees flee Serb death squads

`I kiss my father and my mother. I may never see them again'; From Pristina, an eyewitness tells a harrowing tale of fear on the streets
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THE PLANES flew low last night and anti-aircraft fire responded from the ground, shooting into the sky. On the streets I could hear lots of Serbs shouting - cursing Albanians, Nato, America, Britain, Clinton, Blair, Muslims, Turks.

At about 10pm I heard sounds of boots running up the stairs of the building where I stayed last night. (I haven't slept at home for a week.) I heard the sound of someone knocking on a neighbouring door. "That's it," I thought, "they've arrived." Still, I was amazed how calm I felt.

I have always been scared whenever I see a policeman or anyone carrying a gun (though nowadays there's a difference: Serbs only carry big machine- guns). But this time I was cool. "The worst thing they can do is kill me, so nothing can surprise me," I thought. I made a decision: "I won't try to hide my identity or my mother tongue," - Albanian, of course.

Then I heard someone running again, but now the sound was heading downstairs. No one knocked on my door but I just had to know what was going on, so I looked outside. It was a man I had spoken to before. I had met him on the street a week ago, and we exchanged a few words about the political situation (what else?). We were speaking in Serbian, and he seemed very open-minded and "normal". I was quite glad, as I didn't want to condemn a whole nation because of the government's politics. There are decent people among them, I thought. Until that night.

Now he was wearing a strange uniform, neither police nor military, carrying weapons and heading out into the night. The knock came from his "friend" who had come in a rush, and in the same clothes and gear, to get him. Off they went, no doubt to try to kill an Albanian or to burn a house.

Next day I would have to find another place to sleep: I wouldn't want to run into him again now. Until a few days ago, I felt sorry for the people suffering in the villages. But I don't any more. Now I too am fighting for survival. I try to stay alive but it's difficult. This morning I almost collapsed out of breath while running towards my parents' house to see if they are still OK. There's no phone, so every time I go to spend a night somewhere else, I kiss my father and my mother. I fear I won't see them again.

Yesterday I passed by my favourite cafe, where I used to meet my friends every day.

For years we met and chatted there. We were all so close that if you missed one afternoon, everyone noticed and wondered where you'd gone. Now it is destroyed, even the chairs were taken, and it doesn't look like my cafe at all. Inside five policemen were getting drunk on whisky in the middle of the mess they had made.

Maybe it seems ridiculous to think about this cafe now, but not for me.

God knows when we will gather again, and who will be absent at that time. How many of us are missing?

There is no way to find out. The telephone lines from Albanian houses have been cut, and the whole town is sliced into sections by police and armed Serb civilians.

No one can communicate, no one can move. For now, only names go through my mind. I try to remember faces but I cant.

Still, for the first time last night I felt happy.

The MUP [police] building in the centre of town was completely destroyed by Nato jets. I watched it burning from the window. Now only ashes remain. At least something of "theirs" has been destroyed. The big mushroom that lit the night sky looked so beautiful. At last there was something good in all this tragedy.

We just hope that it will go on, and that Nato planes will fly even lower tonight. But how quickly day goes now! My friends used to call me "Nighthawk", because I adored the night but now I hate it. I will have to leave my home soon, to hide in some other place. To avoid any more knocks.

I will take my blanket, stay awake the whole night, and listen to the sounds of planes, anti-aircraft guns, machine guns, and shouting.

It seems to me that every shot comes from the direction of my parents' house, and it fills me with fear.

The electricity shuts off about 6pm and it is not clever to light a candle, because that will just show that someone is inside. Everyone stays in the dark, waiting.

r This dispatch is from the Balkan Crisis Reports of the Institute for War & Peace Reportingm, which can be found at . The author's name is withheld to protect from reprisals.