On the slopes, perfect snow. Along the road, slaughter

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The Independent Online
"THIS IS one of the most unusual mountains in Europe - you can ski here until the beginning of May," says Branimir Sekulovic, sitting in the dining room of his Alpine-style lodge, writes Raymond Whitaker. "I have been to many skiing centres, and nowhere have I found one as beautiful as ours."

It is not hard to see what he means. The slopes of Sar mountain, hard by the Macedonian border, are covered in perfect powdery snow, and more is in the air, spangling the trees and the steep-roofed chalets. Schoolchildren are throwing snowballs, and the lift is carrying a party of students from Belgrade up to the slope.

The horrific killings are only a few miles down the road. Here, though, skiing continues.

Mr Sekulovic, 46, came to Brezovica as a child, when his father was appointed the first director of the newly developed resort. "My best years were spent here," he says, and he is eager to tell foreign visitors of the opportunities for hunting and fishing as well as skiing, and for walking. "I have covered all these mountains on my own two feet," he adds.

But even Brezovica has not escaped Kosovo's upheavals. The first clue is Mr Sekulovic's dining room - on our arrival he hurriedly unstacks tables and chairs and brings out linen tablecloths before pressing us to have a drink. It is true, he admits: he has no guests. Nor does the 100-room hotel at the bottom of the ski lift. "They have closed, but here the heating is on and everything is ready for anyone who comes."

Plenty of vehicles stand outside the giant Hotel Narcis up the road, but there is a metal detector where the reception desk should be and security men looking suspiciously at unbadged strangers. The complex has been taken over as a training centre by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, which has moved into Kosovo to monitor an increasingly tattered ceasefire. The ski lift, it emerges, is switched on only when groups from Serbia, such as the students, turn up.

"Last winter things were normal," Mr Sekulovic says. "We had all sorts - Serbs, Albanians, Hungarians, Russians. This year, nothing. How do I stay in business? It's a good question. I just hope that there will be an agreement by next winter. There's going to have to be - we have nowhere else to go, and nor do the Albanians.

"Before this there used to be buses bringing hundreds of Albanians, and even though this is a 100 per cent Serbian village, they never had any problems. I speak their language myself, and I used to go hunting with Albanian friends. But one night last September someone burned down the chalets owned by Albanians - it's not certain who - and no one comes now."

Even though wrecked homes are a common sight in Kosovo, the burnt-out chalets are particularly stark against the snow, and against the luxury of the intact lodges surrounding them.

A Serbian pensioner, a refugee from Croatia, says he knew Albanians who used to take their holidays here. "They were very kind to me. They would always give me any food they had left when they were leaving, and money. Now I have to live on what the Red Cross supplies - flour, some potatoes. My wife has diabetes, and it's very hard for us." If it was the Serbs of Brezovica who did this, they caused more harm to themselves than to the rich Albanians who could afford these weekend retreats.

Down on the main road, a lonely Mr Sekulovic is still trying to promote the resort's attractions. "There's been no fighting in these parts," he says. "You can tell British tourists that they'll be absolutely safe here. But it's the journey: I can't make the same guarantee about that."