LIBERATION OF KOSOVO; No bridge over the river of hatred
A City Divided
Thursday 24 June 1999
"They [the Serbs] will not let us cross," he said, pointing to a gang of menacing young men standing on the other side of the bridge.
"Nato is doing nothing to protect us Albanians. The Serbs can come over this side but we cannot cross over there. There are people here whose houses are on that side of the river and they are not allowed to cross. There is a man whose daughter was taken to hospital yesterday and he is not allowed to visit. He doesn't even know if she is alive."
Mitrovica, north of Pristina, is a divided city. It has always been a city of two halves - the south predominantly Albanian, the north mainly Serb. The two parts are divided by the river Ibra. Once the division was voluntary.
The gang on the far side of the bridge was armed with guns and grenades and made their intentions quite clear. "If they [the Albanians] come over here they will be killed. It's as simple as that. They should stay where they are."
Mitrovica is a test case of Nato's ability to bring peace to Kosovo. French troops have spent a week now overseeing a tense situation. They have tried to separate the sides. The Serbs are in the north, where there are shops and bakeries, the Albanians in the south, ravaged and burnt out. Here the shops are empty.
The Serbs have allowed Albanian women to cross the bridge to buy food. If the men cross the French warn them they are taking their lives into their own hands. K-For wants to be fair to both sides. But its approach appears clumsy.
The Mitrovica region saw some of the worst atrocities against Albanians. Today FBI agents attached to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) will travel to Mitrovica, investigating atrocity allegations.
Less than a mile from the river, Driton Beqiri, told how 17 of his wife's cousins had been murdered in her nearby village of Galica. "They were all massacred by the Serbs - they were shot and then they were cut up with knives. I saw their bodies myself," he said.
"Now when I try to cross the bridge and I am stopped I feel great hatred. I know that these Serbs could have been the people who killed my family."
Mr Beqiri said that yesterday his sister crossed the river for food. On returning the gang abused her, stealing her bags.
His wife, Fatime, gently rocking the couple's seven-month-old son, said: "What can you feel about people who would kill babies like this?"
The three Mitrovica road bridges are patrolled night and day by Serbs, enforcing their apartheid vision. They wear no uniforms.
Yesterday The Independent crossed to Mitrovica's north and found a central organiser. Oliver Ivanovich is a businessman with fluent English. He carries a Russian-made pistol in the back of his jeans and a Yugoslav army hand- grenade loose in his jacket pocket. The young men in the gangs call him "chief". He sat on the sofa in his fifth-storey flat. A shiny Yugoslav- made Kalashnikov was leaning against a wall.
"We are two towns. There is the Serb and the Albanian. Our mission is for there to be no more Albanian people in this part of the city.
"The ones from the other [Albanian] side... are wild. Sorry, but that is the only word for them. We want the city divided. It will be like Beirut or Belfast. We do not want the KLA coming into our area so that is why I help organise the patrols. That is why everybody here has to have a gun. I feel very sad but it is the only way that we can save our people."
Nato admits Mitrovica is one of the most intractable situations it is tackling in Kosovo. It will not allow Kosovo to be divided but faces the prospect of a city where division may be the only way to achieve peace.
A Nato spokesman said: "Mitrovica is one of the most difficult jobs we have to do. We could be there for years."
t French peacekeepers have found a mass grave containing as many as 180 bodies. The Defence Minister, Alain Richard, on a visit to the peacekeepers' headquarters in Mitrovica, said: "The general [in charge of French forces] told me that the latest grave they discovered contained more than 100 bodies." The French commander, General Bruno Cuche, said there could be as many as 180 bodies at the site.
THE European Commission has promised to put up to 700m euros (pounds 460m) a year into Kosovo's reconstruction, but says it expects to foot only half of the total bill.
Outlining plans for a European Agency for Reconstruction, to be based in Pristina or Skopje, Hans Van den Broek, acting commissioner for external affairs, said the money - to be spent over three years - was in addition to humanitarian aid pledges already made. The figure appears to fall well short of US expectations that Europe will foot almost the entire bill for rebuilding the Balkans.
Brussels also said that Montenegro would be exempt from all but humanitarian aid.
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