War In The Balkans: In this dark land, liberation can only end in more bloodshed

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The Independent Online
IF CLICHeS were permitted in Pristina and its like, city of fear would not be good enough. There are rifle shots in the empty streets, loud, close to hand, from somewhere behind the 15th-century Imperial Mosque. There is the constant roar of Nato jets and a thump of bombs in the hills around Kosovo's capital that changes the air pressure in Marshal Tito street. There are acres of looted houses, homes to the persecuted Albanians, two of whom I met - still I wonder at their courage - walking down the Corso arm-in-arm, a husband and his pregnant wife waiting for their day of liberation.

And there are the Serbs, fearful of their future, unable to sell their homes, tens of thousands of them, still unable to grasp what Yugoslavia's "peace" with Nato really means. "The Albanians are coming with Nato," a girl said. "This will become an Albanian city."

Nato, of course, is unconcerned by the fate of Kosovo's remaining 100,000 Serbs - mostly civilians and innocent of the crimes of Serb militiamen - and is already talking blandly of their "probable" departure.

First the Kosovo Albanians were "ethnically cleansed" by the Serbs. And in a few days - two weeks at most - the Serbs will be "ethnically cleansed" by Nato's Albanian allies.

Bill Clinton and Tony Blair have both promised to protect Serbs as well as Albanians in this dark land. Both will fail. "Moving around is not safe - you have to know that," an army major told us frankly. And I have the impression that Pristina is already lost to the Serbs.

As usual, there are the heroes. Two of them were the Albanian couple and another was a reservist soldier called Zoren Brankovic who runs the biggest key cutting shop in Kosovo. He pointed to the single-storey, yellow-painted house in Ruga Zejtaret. "My father was born here and I was born here and all the Brankovics lived in this small area," he said.

And he pointed to the mass of rubble at one end of the street - Nato's work - in which his cousin had died. "No, I will never leave. This is my home - my very own home which belongs to our family. I have a brother here and a wife and three sons and we want to live here with our Albanian neighbours. The Albanian people of Pristina were never a problem - the money of the KLA and the mafia is the problem. Everyone came to my shop - Albanians, Turks, Serbs, Montenegrins..."

But that was then, and this is now. And walking past the bombed-out post office - Nato's work again - we found Marjana and her boyfriend, Nikola, arms draped around each other, she holding a rose on a long stem. "Why should I leave when this is my home and my country?" she asked. Nikola, who was at work in the Jugopetrol plant when Nato destroyed it in April, talked about the Orthodox monastery at Gracanina and admitted he wanted to marry Miljana. "They should never have stopped the war when they did," the girl said. And there was another of those loud, echoing rifle shots. Who was shooting at who, I asked?

They shrugged. But I suspect their ignorance. I have a shrewd, unpleasant suspicion that the Kosovo Liberation Army are not waiting for Nato to enter Pristina to stake their claim. I think they are already here, amid the houses of the dispossessed, waiting to move before a single British paratrooper marches down Marshal Tito street. Indeed, not far from Urosevac - scarcely 15 miles from here - the Israeli journalist Ron Ben-Yishai drove into an ambush yesterday morning. He and his Serb driver, Ivan Cvejic, were wounded. The KLA fired 20 bullets at a bus on the Pristina- Prizren road a few hours later.

So what life is left for the Serbs here? For mile after mile yesterday, I drove alone through an abandoned Kosovo on the road from Raca, the Albanian homes long incinerated by the Serbs.

Rumours are already moving through Pristina than the Serbian government will not allow the 100,000 Serbs to leave Kosovo, that the cities of central Serbia cannot absorb more refugees.

A thunderstorm was darkening the skies as I approached Luzane. On the bombed-out bridge lay the skeleton of that terrible bus - the Pristina- Nis bus that Nato destroyed with a missile last month - with its steel roof frame and a boy's sodden left boot on the road beside it. Below, beside the river into which many of the dead were thrown - Serbs and Albanians alike - I found a tangle of mouldering clothes and a spray of plastic flowers, bright crimson and yellow and purple amid the real pale blue cornflowers of the riverbank, a token of remembrance to the death of both Serbs and Albanians, the last memorial to a Kosovo that might have been but never was.

For they are still here, the Albanians; not many perhaps. But the couple we stopped on the Corso yesterday afternoon told - between frightened glances and the wife's nervous pleas to her husband to stop talking and leave - the story of the pst two months.

"We spend all our time in a flat," he said simply. "Day and night. We just stay in, that is all. We move from house to house, from flat to flat, all the time, in case they come for us. My own brother has disappeared. I've been to the Milosevic police to ask where he is." At this remark I drew in my breath. Kosovo is not a place for the brave. "No, I couldn't find him," the man muttered. "I have lost my own brother"

His wife muttered desperately again, a young woman, newly pregnant, a child conceived amid her people's nightmare. They turned away from us and walked quickly away, arm in arm, waiting for the tomorrow that Marjana and Nikola and Zoren Brankovic, deep down in their hearts, fear more than they can ever admit.