Rebuilding Kosovo: Wounds that won't heal

THE AFTERMATH; Bitterness, suspicion, and hostility stalk the corridors of a `liberated' hospital
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The Independent Online
The British armoured vehicles trundling around the grounds of Pristina hospital may have large red crosses on their sides, but they look warlike just the same. Their fearsome aspect is appropriate: the atmosphere in the corridors of Kosovo's largest and best-equipped medical facility is one of bitterness, suspicion and hostility as Albanian doctors struggle to reclaim what they consider to be a Serbian enclave in their capital.

The resemblance to a battlefield is uncomfortably close at times. Outside his personnel carrier, Major Tam Tervet of the 2nd Armoured Field Ambulance describes how he found a human arm lying in the grounds when Nato troops arrived two weeks ago. "It had been amputated from a 10-year-old child and put in a clear plastic bag. I took it to the Serbian medical staff and asked them what they thought they were doing, but they didn't want to know. Eventually I put it in a black bin liner and chucked it as far as I could into a field next door."

Nor are the British the only ones bringing weapons into the hospital. Last week Major Tervet helped to disarm a Serb who started shooting wildly, grazing a porter in the arm. "He had brought in his brother, who was stabbed during an argument when Albanians tried to get their flat back. One of the Albanians came here too, and the battle started up again." Security has been tightened at the main gate, and weapons have been taken from Serbian doctors, among others. Vehicles are searched on the way out as well, to ensure that medical supplies and equipment are not being stolen.

In the orthopaedic ward, Dr Arben Grazhdani, 40, slumps into a chair after completing his first three operations since Albanian medical staff returned to the hospital on Monday. "When we came back we had to spend the first three days cleaning up," said Dr Grazhdani. "We still have no sterilisation or X-ray equipment. The Serbs have locked them up. We are short of every kind of staff - doctors, nurses and technicians - but the Serbs won't help. They drift in and sit around in meetings, then go home after a couple of hours."

Like everywhere else in Kosovo, at Pristina hospital the Serbian coup of 1990 is going into reverse. Ten years ago Slobodan Milosevic directed the seizure of all institutions in the province and ordered the introduction of loyalty oaths to the state that was followed by the dismissal of almost every Albanian from positions of responsibility; now Albanian professionals are returning to the university and the state publishing house as well as the hospital, with every intention of taking over. At first Serbs sought to pretend that nothing had changed; now, with the Nato occupation of Kosovo going into its third week and vengeance against Serbs increasing, the reaction increasingly is to flee. "They came with the police in 1990 to throw me out," said one hospital administrator who returned for the first time on Friday. "Now the police have gone, and they have nobody to complain to. It is their turn to be scared."

The only Serbian doctor I could find, an ear, nose and throat specialist called Dr Gradimir Lazic, was still in denial. "It is absolutely untrue that the Albanian staff were pushed out in 1990," he said. "They walked out because their political leaders told them to go. It was an attempt to blackmail Yugoslavia into giving them a republic by crippling the economy. Now they are coming back and demanding control, without going through proper procedures. They are not civilised. They bring KLA men in civilian clothes to intimidate us." ("We can see militiamen out of uniform walking around here," the Albanian administrator had said. "We are still not free.")

Dr Lazic said the director of the hospital had called a meeting of Serbian staff on Monday and asked them to stay. "The British military were there, and we appealed to them for protection," he said. "But we are suffering criminal acts all the time - threats, kidnappings, our flats seized. Our safety is not guaranteed, so everyone is leaving. By Wednesday most doctors had gone.

"I blame the Russians," he added suddenly. "Because they rushed into Pristina, Nato did too, and nobody secured the borders with Macedonia and Albania. We have all kinds of bandits coming in." Just then a surgeon called Dr Sladjan came over to say a brief goodbye before driving off. "Yesterday he said he was going to stay, but they broke into his flat last night," said Dr Lazic. "I was born in Kosovo, and I don't want to go. But when I come in on Monday I won't be surprised to find myself the only Serbian doctor left here."

In the vascular surgery department Dr Salih Krasniqi, 43, turned the pages of a heavy medical register, looking for a patient's entry. "Here he is," he said. "Yll Morina." Along the line listing the patient's name, age, injuries and treatment was a column headed "Profession", where a Serbian hand had written "Terrorist". Morina, a wounded KLA fighter, died despite the best efforts of the Serbian medical staff. Perhaps this was because, according to Dr Krasniqi, the police who were everywhere in the hospital during the Nato air campaign beat the patient every night.

"The patient wanted to go to Belgrade for surgery, but the head of the surgical department, Professor Andrea Tomanovic, refused," said Dr Krasniqi. "Instead he operated on him here, six times." Finally Morina was sent to a specialist hospital in Novi Sad, but he was dead on arrival.

The only unusual aspect of the case, the Albanian doctor added, was that Yll Morina had received treatment at all. "Often the Serbian medical staff refused to look at Albanian patients they considered terrorists," he said. "After the Serbs decided to crack down on the KLA in May 1998, it became a regular thing for injured suspects to be chained to radiators and for Serbian policemen to beat them. From then until January this year there were 55 cases of mistreatment of patients by the police."

Dr Krasniqi, almost uniquely, won a court case to get his job back after being sacked from his general surgeon's post in 1991. By the time he returned five years later the Serbs were in total control. Although almost all the patients were Albanian, less than a 10th of the staff of 1,500 were, and the only permitted language was Serbian. "They treated us as less than third-class citizens," said the doctor. "Serbian patients got everything free, but Albanians had to pay. By the time Morina died he had paid about 7,000 Deutschmarks for his medicine. If an Albanian needed blood, the staff or his family had to donate it."

Dr Krasniqi said he was in the vascular department because Professor Tomanovic refused to take him back into general surgery. Like the rest of the Albanian staff, he left the hospital on the eve of the Nato air campaign. Almost the first person he ran into on Monday was Professor Tomanovic.

I went in search of the professor to hear his story, only to be told by a Serbian staff member: "We haven't seen him since 7pm last night. There's nobody at his home, and we think he must have been kidnapped."