War in the Balkans: Albanians in Kosovo - `It's like we're all in prison'

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The Independent Online
ONE OF the few Albanians left in Pristina told The Independent on a crackling telephone line yesterday of the terrifying conditions facing Kosovars who have failed to flee in time from the Serb police and paramilitaries who now infest the city.

"I am alive," Mimoza told me. "The phone lines are cut to all Albanians, but I know how to work them.

"I don't know if we will leave. One night, some Serb gunmen came and told us all to leave, but a Serb neighbour said, `You can stay, I will protect you'.

"So we did, but the family is scared. I have had no news of my boyfriend for three weeks. I went to his house one day, and it was a mess, totally destroyed. Nobody was left there."

Mimoza said the Albanians stranded in Pristina have to remain indoors most of the day and must speak Serbian if and when they venture out.

"We just stay inside as if we were in prison," she said. "Sometimes I go out to buy food, I wear a hat and dark glasses so no one can recognise me and I speak Serbian. We can only buy after the Serbs. If there is anything left, they sell it to Albanians. But you have to show your ID to buy anything, and when they see you are Albanian, they curse and say, `Go and ask Nato for bread'."

She said the Serbs were still trying to get Albanians to leave Kosovo by handing out instant passports for a fee to be paid in German currency. "My sister blames my father for not doing enough to get us out of the city earlier," she said. "But now my father is going out to get a new passport for her. It seems unbelievable, but the authorities are making passports in 24 hours in Pristina's Grand Hotel. You just have to pay 483 dinars [80 marks or pounds 28].

"But it is very risky trying to leave for Albania. My cousin died recently on the way out. She was 14; she got sick and they buried her in the hills.

"You don't see people on the street. The police stop young people on the street when they see them; if I see two or three people walking and not speaking to each other, I know they are Albanian."

She added: "We have enough food for now. Cafe Corzo, where we used to go for a morning cappuccino, is working, but Tiffany's [a favourite restaurant of foreigners] has been burnt down; nothing is left."

Mimoza said that in spite of the terror wrought against the Albanians in Nato's name, she and her family still supported the bombing campaign.

"When my youngest sister sees TV reports of Kosovo children living in the mud in the refugee camps in Albania, she says, `Lucky you, at least you are not in Kosovo'. And when she hears bombs drop, she shouts, `Do it more, do it more!'"

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