The Balkans Truce: In The Camps - New refugees report more Serb killings

PERHAPS THE diplomats in European capitals were sipping champagne. No one here would begrudge them that. But a day after the much-heralded Kosovo peace agreement, things on the ground along the Kosovo-Albanian border had changed little.

Nato warplanes continued to bomb Kosovo. Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) fighters continued to engage in close-range combat with Serb forces in border villages near the Albanian frontier, showing no sign of giving up their weapons or their struggle.

But most of all, the refugees themselves continued to live in squalor. They were optimistic, as always, but realistic, too. Not a single one of them would give a deutschmark for Slobodan Milosevic's signature. And few of them expect to be back in their homeland this year. They want to see real Nato soldiers here - and they want to see them soon.

KLA spokesmen moved to reassure them that they would provide the backbone of a new army and police force for the province. One KLA man, Kadri Kryeziu, promised big changes when the Serb forces leave. "We will have a new constitution that will guarantee the human rights of everyone, regardless of ethnic origin, creed or colour. Serbs who didn't support Milosevic's fascism will have their security and rights guaranteed".

Almost in the next breath, however, Mr Kryeziu predicted that "100 per cent of the Serbs will leave Kosovo when Milosevic falls".

The aid effort would have to be massive and quick he said, but promised: "Kosovars have a culture of hard work. We will rebuild. Under the Serbs, they controlled us. In my city, Prizren, there were 95 per cent Albanians and 5 per cent Serbs. But they controlled everything. If your Serb neighbour wasn't with the Serb secret police, his sister was.

"Now, we will rebuild a new country in freedom, better than before. We have a land rich in natural resources. This tragedy will leave deep psychological scars, but throughout history we have been a people who get over tragedies quickly. We have resisted many occupying forces. We resisted this one.

"The Kosovar people would have triumphed. Thanks to Nato, Bill Clinton and, particularly, Tony Blair, we will triumph sooner than we could have done on our own.

"On behalf of myself and the people of Kosovo, we deeply thank Nato and especially Tony Blair. We thank him very much. And we are a people who never forget any goodness shown towards us."

A day after the peace deal, Nato, UN and international aid officials here were in a state of total confusion. A few refugees with relatives in camps farther south got into UN buses to join them. But most refugees said they would prefer to stay here, turning the UN relocation plan on its head.

"I don't think we can abandon our winterisation plan," said a senior official of the UN High Commission for Refugees, referring to the plan to get the refugees to the warmer south-western lowlands before the onset of the bitter winter weather. But most refugees here said they would now prefer to stay. Of a planned convoy of at least 20 tractors and trailers and more than 200 people, due to head to the safer camps in south-west Albania yesterday with a Nato escort, only five tractors left.

Peace deal or no, more than 130 Kosovars crossed into Albania yesterday, telling tales of continuing massacres and the imprisonment of men of fighting age. They said that the Serbs had brought up to 800 new prisoners to the big Smerkovnice jail in mid-week, replacing those who had been freed and allowed to cross to Albania over the past two weeks.

A group of 14 refugees, including women, who arrived here yesterday, confirmed there had been a massacre in the Tusus district of the Kosovo town of Prizren last week, in which they said 50 of their neighbours had been killed.