War In The Balkans: My God, I want to get out of here

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Wednesday afternoon

THE NEIGHBOURHOODS of Dragodan and Taslixhe, entirely Albanian, were emptied yesterday. Now they have broken into almost every house in Dragodan and destroyed them. And they are doing the same thing in Taslixhe.

Vrenjvc, the last neighbourhood on the outskirts of the road to Belgrade, was emptied yesterday. I have no information about looting; it's simply destroying.

The streets are different. We used to have heavy firing at night but not so much during the day. Now there is shooting all of the time, day and night. It's not fighting, just shooting in all directions. Everyone is shooting outside. It is going on now. I also saw a few jeeps on the streets taken from the UNHCR [United Nations High Commission for Refugees] warehouse.

Only women dare go out; the men are too vulnerable. But there were no shops open and nothing to buy. Already we have started using the food we had set aside as reserves. Yesterday the people from Dragodan came and now we have four families living in a three-bedroom flat. So we have more mouths to feed.

No one else will write. No one else is around. Everyone is in hiding but I have no information about where they are. We have no leaders now; it is just us.

My friends from Belgrade and elsewhere are calling me, telling me to leave. God, I want to get out of here. I can't stand it. But I won't leave until I have rock-solid guarantees, a document that I am allowed to pass, or something, so that we can get through. There was a bigconvoy that left yesterday from the city for the Macedonian border. But we hear that they haven't been allowed through yet.

I check the Internet to find out what is happening in my own town. Kosovapress, the KLA agency, reports shootings in Pristina and shelling in Taslixhe. I can hear the shooting but not the shelling. And then I understand. I see why those people came last night into my parents' house. Both of these neighbourhoods, Dragodan and Taslixhe, are up on the hills. Now that they are "clean", it is very easy to set up artillery there and target anything in the town.

At noon, the family is told to leave. The dispatch cannot be finished. There is only time to write one more e-mail:

NO STORY - sorry.

We have been ordered to leave the apartment.

We're going NOW. I don't know where...

Pray for me, and I'll call you when or as soon as I can, but as for now, it seems that I will have the status of the people that came some days ago to my house. Good-bye.

Shortly after the family departs, the Institute in London calls:

"Is X... there?"

"He had to go."

"When do you expect him to come back?"

"I don't think he's ever coming back."

Later, the correspondent finds a telephone. The family has been moved, but it is not possible to say where or how. Plans are made to risk the journey to the Macedonian border. Contacts in the Skopje government will be called on to try to ensure that they can cross the border successfully. It is time to go...

t This dispatch is from the `Balkan Crisis Reports' of the Institute for War & Peace Reporting, which can be found at . The author's name is withheld to protect against reprisals