Gurkhas trapped in village of hate

IN THE village of Robovce, near Lipljan, south of Pristina, a unique and tense encounter is taking place. The village's Albanian headman, Tefik Bajqinca, 48 is sharing the same space and breathing the same air as the local Serb leader Zoran Spasac, 29. But in a tiny little room, watched by officers of the Gurkha regiment, who have lured them together, the men exchange not a single word, or glance. Mr Bajqinca fixes his gaze on the wall, his back turned against his Serb counterpart. If it was not so tragic it would be funny.

As Mr Spasac, whose family, like Mr Bajqinca's, have lived in Robovce for generations, insists that relations between Serbs and Albanians were excellent before the Nato bombs, Mr Bajqinca remains silent. It takes restraint, for he is seething inside. "He is a liar," Mr Bajqinca says later. "Only three of the 54 Albanian families in this village spoke to the Serbs. And they did so through fear, not friendship."

It is almost impossible to comprehend the depth of ethnic division. Set amid rolling fields, carpeted with wild flowers, Robovce, complete with village green and waddling geese, appears to be a sort ofparadise. Serbs and Albanians have lived together here for years but in parallel universes.

Neighbours do not talk and adult hate has been passed on to the children. The walls of the village school are painted two colours - the yellow end for little Serbs, white for little Kosovo Albanians.

This hardly seems fertile soil for the seeds of postwar reconciliation. But believe it or not, Robovce - 1,000-strong, 60 per cent Albanian and 40 per cent Serbian - has the reconciliation hopes of an entire Gurkha unit riding on it. For this is the only mixed village left in the area. And the miracle is that it came through the war without a single killing.

The Gurkhas can only speculate as to why this village, unlike others, is not swimming in blood. Mr Bajqinca insists that torture and intimidation did take place, and that the Serbs stopped short of murder only because everyone here knew one another, and war criminals would be easily fingered.

The rumour is that peace reigns only because Albanians believe their Serb neighbours are armed, leading to concerns about blood letting when Nato confiscates villagers' guns.

Whatever the reasons, Major Ian Thomas, a Gurkha officer, is nursing Robovce like a sickly only child. Not that he underestimates the odds against its survival. He need only watch the Serb and Albanian children who take turns to visit the Gurkha camp sentry post in ethnically pure packs. Or he can listen to the headmen.

"We want to co-operate and live together," insists Mr Spasac. "It is only Albanians who refuse." Only when the Serb has left the room does Mr Bajqinca spit out his contempt for oppressors suddenly turned friends. "For 10 years I was a shadow in this village, not a human being," he says, recalling how he and all his Albanian neighbours were thrown out of their jobs for refusing to accept Belgrade's removal of political autonomy for Kosovo. "I had no rights. There was a time when Serbs stood on the heads of nine Albanians to get where they wanted to be. Now every Serb must listen to what nine Albanians have to say."

Major Thomas, 36, is exhausted by endless meetings with Serb and Albanian leaders from surrounding villages. "I am harangued in the morning by Serbs and harangued in the afternoon by Albanians," he says. Today's icing on the cake was a "chiding" by Croats negotiating a Nato escort to the Macedonian border. They are terrified their shared language with the Serbs will make them targets for Albanians.

Every day weeping Serb mothers visit him for news of sons they claim have been kidnapped by the KLA. So desperate are they that they offer to give their houses to the KLA in return for their boys.

There are also meetings with the Albanians of Slovinje, a village in which 45 Albanians are believed to have been massacred by Serbs in April. Families want to dig up the victims from a mass grave before they become impossible to identify. But doing that, before UN investigators visit the site, might ruin evidence that could eventually nail the killers. "I don't want them digging up this site," says Major Thomas. "But ultimately it is their choice."

Around Lipljan, armed Gurkhas protect the Serb harvest. Last month at nearby Gracko 14 Serb farmers were murdered in their fields. In a trailer a few miles from Gracko, Lazar Milkic, 60, harvesting wheat, muses on the pointlessness of his labour. "Albanians won't speak to Serbs, never mind buy their wheat," he says. His friend Milenkovic Nikola, 60, says that Nato cannot protect every Serb. Soon he says these farmers will join the flood north. "The Albanians want a pure nation," he says. "It is the end for Serbs."

In Bosnia there was at least a golden multi-ethnic age to aspire to. In Kosovo, Robovce is about the best on offer, the only whiff of possibility for the UN's insistence on a multi-ethnic Kosovo.

In this last mixed village Gurkha soldiers are running English classes for children. But Serbs and Albanians are taught separately after the realisation that a Unicef call for immediate integrated education was wildly optimistic. A few Serb children attend aerobics classes with Albanians, but only the very young. Undaunted, the Gurkhas have invited the whole village to a mixed sports day next week.

There are occasional chinks of hope. Mr Bajqinca says the children should mix. A Gurkha survey reveals that every Serb family concurs, as do half the Albanian parents.

Major Thomas says he be-lieves in the UN's multi-ethnic mandate. "But it is a long-term aspiration not a short-term quick fix," he says. Even as he speaks smoke is billowing from another home in Lipljan, and another Serb family is heading north to Serbia.

Suggested Topics
Arts & Entertainment
Ricky Gervais at a screening of 'Muppets Most Wanted' in London last month
tvAs the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian on why he'll never bow to critics who habitually circle his work
Arts & Entertainment
Don (John Hamm) and Megan (Jessica Paré) Draper are going their separate ways in the final series of ‘Mad Men’
tvReview: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
News
news
Life & Style
Going down: Google's ambition to build an elevator into space isn't likely to be fulfilled any time soon
techTechnology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
News
David Cameron sings a hymn during the enthronement service of The Most Rev Justin Welby as Archbishop of Canterbury, at Canterbury Cathedral last year
news
Life & Style
From long to Jong: Guy Pewsey outside Mo Nabbach’s M&M Hair Academy in west London before the haircut
fashionThe Independent heads to an Ealing hairdressers to try out the North Korean dictator's trademark do
Sport
Vito Mannone fails to keep out Samir Nasri's late strike
sportMan City 2 Sunderland 2: Keeper flaps at Nasri's late leveller, but Black Cat striker's two goals in 10 minutes had already done damage
Extras
indybest10 best smartphones
News
peopleRyan Gosling says yes, science says no. Take the A-list facial hair challenge
Arts & Entertainment
tvCreator Vince Gilligan sheds light on alternate endings
News
Paul Weller, aka the Modfather, performing at last year’s Isle of Wight Festival in Newport
people
Life & Style
Michael Acton Smith founded Firebox straight out of university before creating Moshi Monsters
techHe started out selling silliness with online retailer Firebox, before launching virtual creatures who took the real world by storm
News
Ethical matters: pupils during a philosophy lesson
educationTaunton School's policy of putting philosophy at heart of its curriculum is one of secrets of its success
Arts & Entertainment
Play It Forward: the DC Record Fair in Washington, US
musicIndependent music shops can offer a tempting alternative to downloads on Record Store Day
Sport
video
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Online Advertising Account Executive , St Pauls , London

£26K-30k + Bonus, Private Medical Insurance, Company Pension: Charter Selectio...

Advertising Account Executive - Online, Central London

£25K-28k + Bonus, Private Medical Insurance, Company Pension: Charter Selectio...

Senior Infrastructure Consultant

£50000 - £65000 Per Annum potentially flexible for the right candidate: Clearw...

Public Sector Audit - Bristol

£38000 per annum + Benefits: Pro-Recruitment Group: Do you have experience of ...

Day In a Page

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics

Is sexual harassment a fact of gay life?

Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics
Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith: The man behind a British success story

Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith

Acton Smith launched a world of virtual creatures who took the real world by storm
Kim Jong-un's haircut: The Independent heads to Ealing to try out the dictator's do

Our journalist tries out Kim Jong-un's haircut

The North Korean embassy in London complained when M&M Hair Academy used Kim Jong-un's image in the window. Curious, Guy Pewsey heads to the hair salon and surrenders to the clippers
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part
Vespa rides on with launch of Primavera: Iconic Italian scooter still revving up millions of sales

Vespa rides on with launch of the Primavera

The Vespa has been a style icon since the 1950s and the release this month of its latest model confirms it has lost little of its lustre
Record Store Day: Independent music shops can offer a tempting alternative to downloads

Record Store Day celebrates independent music shops

This Saturday sees a host of events around the country to champion the sellers of well-grooved wax
Taunton's policy of putting philosophy at heart of its curriculum is one of secrets of its success

Education: Secret of Taunton's success

Taunton School, in Somerset, is one of the country's leading independent schools, says Richard Garner
10 best smartphones

10 best smartphones

With a number of new smartphones on the market, we round up the best around, including some more established models
Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

The former Australia coach on why England must keep to Plan A, about his shock at their collapse Down Under, why he sent players home from India and the agonies of losing his job
Homelessness: Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Zubairi Sentongo swapped poverty in Uganda for homelessness in Britain. But a YMCA scheme connected him with a couple offering warmth and shelter
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park
The pain of IVF

The pain of IVF

As an Italian woman vows to keep the babies from someone else’s eggs, Julian Baggini ponders how the reality of childbirth is often messier than the natural ideal