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
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Pre-Press / Mac Operator / Artworker - Digital & Litho Print

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: With year on year growth and a reputation for ...

Recruitment Genius: Project Manager - Live Virtual Training / Events

£24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Project Manager is required t...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Group has been well establishe...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Group has been well establishe...

Day In a Page

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003