Pristina now a desolate landscape

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The Independent Online
IT WAS a dead city that we drove into last night. Kosovo's capital was a landscape of desolation and shattered buildings, its few surviving Albanians stumbling exhausted along the rubbish-covered tracks of a disused railway line like a scene from a Polish ghetto. The centre of the city - struck by Nato bombs only hours before - was a disgrace; its post office, its largest bank and a whole row of civilian homes had been torn to pieces by Nato bombs for four hours yesterday, killing at least 10 civilians, half of them Muslims.

In the hundreds of streets and laneways of the Albanian area of the city were just shadows and emptiness, rows of smashed Albanian shops and a few ragged children who ran away from us as we approached. City officials claimed that scarcely 40,000 of Pristina's 200,000 population had fled, but I doubt it.

I came across an old Albanian in a dirty coat and crumpled shirt, hobbling through the broken glass outside the post office. He was holding an old typewriter and a cheap canvas sack of dirty clothes: "They bombed all night," was all he would say. He muttered that he was trying to reach Skopje, in Macedonia.

Pristina as a mixed city is no more. Along the road into the city we passed hundreds of burnt-out homes. When we drove into the Albanian suburbs - so vibrant with life when I drove in last year that I had to slow my car to drive around the crowds - there was scarcely a soul. Serbian special police stopped us at checkpoints. For much of our journey we were escorted by Yugoslav troops armed with a heavy machine- gun. For the Kosovo Liberation Army - terrorists, to the Serbs - are still active in the hills around Pristina.

A Serb girl in the grimly empty city said that at night the KLA returned to attack government forces. I heard two shots when I was walking through the city-centre ruins.

The only group of non-Serb people we saw were a few old men and women and tiny children stumbling down the railway track, clutching bedding, bags, a wooden box, old coats.

A boy turned to us for a moment and gave us a strange slow wave with his hand, and then a crazed smile. Were only the infirm and the insane left in this city?

And what did Nato think it was doing to the city centre these past hours? Crunching my way through the tons of glass and still smouldering timber beams of homes - the Serbs lived in the centre of Pristina - a horrible suspicion crossed my mind. At least 11 bombs had been targeted on to these two square miles in just six hours. Could there have been, perhaps, a deliberate attack on a Serb civilian area by Nato - in revenge for the punishment the Serbs had meted out to the Albanians? Did the KLA ask us to strike these houses in the civilian heart of Pristina?

Among the dead was a family from Kosovo's Turkish Muslim community - a man and his three children. In the post

office, a Kosovo Albanian and a Serb died together. A Serb waiter was killed near the bank. One home had been turned to powder by a direct hit from a Nato jet, its wooden frame still red hot as I walked to the lip of the bomb crater. Beside it were the pathetic remnants of a family's life: a health certificate in the name of George Kostic, spectacles, two passport photos of an old man and a steel case containing a hearing aid.

A Serb girl came to the door of her home and pointed to a pulverised building down the road. "It was my father's shop - he had the best photographer's shop in Pristina."

Many of the other small shops damaged by the Nato bombs had been Albanian- owned. Even the dead of Pristina were not allowed to rest in peace. A Nato jet - probably aiming at an oil storage tank a quarter of a mile away - had bombed the Orthodox cemetery, sending more than 30 graves, coffins and the recent dead into the sky - part of the graveyard ending up on the roof of a goods train near by. The road into Kosovo was lined with burnt houses - though many had been destroyed before Nato's bombardment. It was in Pristina itself that the extent of the city's exodus was most terrible, symbolised not so much in the looted shops or smashed windows but by the silence of abandonment.

What awful deeds have taken place in Pristina these past two weeks? "We shall fight to the last Serb," an old man said beside the ruins of the Nato bombing. On a scale of wickedness, of course - and those empty streets told their own story - there was no doubt who bore the most blame. But this is a dirty war - and the evidence of Pristina last night was that we all now have dirty hands.