`I would not sleep in a Serb house'; LIBERATION OF KOSOVO

Looting

AS PIGLETS cavorted in the vegetable patch of an abandoned Serbian farmhouse, a group of weather-beaten men loaded planks into an empty trailer - Albanian looters in action. No doubt they too were responsible for the clouds of grey smoke surging from a nearby cottage, its roof tiles blazing and beams crashing down.

"My whole house was burnt down and 10 of my relatives killed, two of them were burnt also," said one man, who then paused. "I recognise you," he exclaimed, "You interviewed me when we found the last body."

And then it dawned: Ymer Delija, father and husband, lost his wife and four of his five children in the Obrinje massacre last September, when Serbian forces swept through a wood where more than 25 people, mostly women and children, were hiding. Twenty-two were killed as they ran, leaving behind a pathetic jumble of possessions scattered around the plastic tarpaulin under which they sheltered. A photograph of one of the victims, a baby, sparked an international outcry and prompted the first serious threat of Nato air strikes against the Serbian military machine in Kosovo. Twenty bodies were found at once but three weeks later, another man was discovered, stuffed down a well. It was then that I met Ymer, who was caring for his three-year-old son Albert, and his brother's children, Liridona and Besnik. They were the only survivors.

"We came here to take this wood," he said. "It's a kind of revenge." Was he planning to burn the house down afterwards? "Well, we have burnt two or three today already and it's enough for today."

But would he not rather move into an intact house, abandoned by Serbs, than burn it down? "I have land, so I cannot turn my back on my destroyed house," he said. "No one is interested in moving into Serb houses ... Everybody has suffered so much that they cannot even go in to their houses."

In a village nearby, several houses were smouldering, the hay stacks blazing and spewing forth great plumes of black smoke. Tractors loaded with goodies - sofas, chairs, fridges, stoves - were much in evidence, but their passengers looked first sheepish and then, when no reprimand was forthcoming, gleeful. No one would admit to burning buildings, though an acrid smell hung over the charming, wooded countryside.

Mohamed Azemi, stooped and carrying the two bundles with which he fled to the mountains, walked past one blazing house, its roof snapping, crackling and popping. "I don't care about this, they burnt my house and now I'm happy in some way," he said. And as for the usefulness of any "enemy" abode: "I would not live in a Serb house, I would rather sleep in the garden."

And in an Albanian garden, not too far away, Bekim Ymeraj, a teacher, and six of his seven children are lying in the grass, rotting in the sun since being shot dead in May by Serbian forces. No one has buried them yet, for fear of Serbs living less than a mile away. Across the main road lie the graves of 11 other relatives killed the same day. Every house has been razed. Such scenes help to explain why so many Albanians, having lost everything, are helping themselves to anything they can find in Serb villages, which can often be identified by the presence of pigs and intact roofs.

Back in Veriq, the men were sifting through the house, taking useful coils of wire and hose but leaving the livestock and vegetables. "I don't need the chickens," said Ymer, "so I leave them because some other Albanian will."

A few letters and an old black-and-white photo lay discarded on the steps. The back of the photo was inscribed: "For many memories, to my sister Momirka, from Branko Vesic." It showed a young man in Yugoslav uniform, taken perhaps 30 years ago.

A few family photographs are all that Ymer has left. Since the massacre, the children have improved somewhat, he says, although they are still severely traumatised. As for him: "Sometimes I forget what happened but other times it is very bad. I had four and now I have only one. Losing 10 members of a family is not like losing 10 chickens."

Not that he has any material possessions left either. The Serbs stole his tractor and burnt his nice car, fruits of many years' labour in Slovenia. Ymer stayed in Obrinje throughout the war - the last man, he says - sometimes hiding out from the Serbs. "I wrote a letter and stuck it on the door: `You can burn it 100 times but I am going to re-build again'."

And now an anonymous Serb family has provided him with the means to fulfil his pledge.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
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

MBDA UK Ltd: Mission Planning and Control Solutions Systems Engineer

Competitive salary & benefits: MBDA UK Ltd: What’s the opportunity? A pro-act...

MBDA UK Ltd: System Design Capability

Competitive salary & benefits: MBDA UK Ltd: What’s the opportunity? The small...

Recruitment Genius: Time Served Fabricator / Welders - Immediate Start

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fabricator welder required for ...

Recruitment Genius: Inbound Customer Service Advisors

£14564 - £15311 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Inbound Customer Service Adviso...

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific