`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
News
election 2015The 10 best quotes of the campaign
News
A caravan being used as a polling station in Ford near Salisbury, during the 2010 election
election 2015The Independent's guide to get you through polling day
News
people
Voices
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month
voicesWhat I learnt from my years in government, by the former Home Secretary David Blunkett
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
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

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'