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Millennial Joy in Yugoslavia

January 1, 2000

KOSOVSKA MITROVICA, Yugoslavia (AP) _ With fireworks and rock concerts, with protests and sad remembrances, the people of a disintegrated Yugoslavia embraced the new century with hopes for new beginnings.

In this divided Kosovo city, ethnic Albanian and Serb leaders stood on a bridge linking its two halves Friday and pledged to work toward uniting their communities in 2000.

``Mitrovica will be a united town,″ the province’s chief U.N. administrator, Bernard Kouchner, said during a ceremony on the Ibar River span.

In nearby Bosnia-Herzegovina, another breakaway region of the former Yugoslavia, revelers hugged, kissed and swilled champagne at the stroke of midnight in Sarajevo, the capital.

For the first time since the end of the 1992-1995 Bosnian war, authorities organized a public New Year’s celebration on a square in downtown Sarajevo. It featured a three-hour rock and folk concert.

In Belgrade, capital of the diminished Yugoslavia, fireworks resounded and new neon lights glared, but they could not cover up the gloom and uncertainty gripping the Serbian people.

The Socialist and Communist Youth groups staged rock concerts in Belgrade, at the main square and in front of the federal parliament building, but only a few thousand in the city of 2 million turned up.

The scars from the 78-day NATO bombing campaign unleashed in March against Yugoslavia, as punishment for President Slobodan Milosevic’s bloody crackdown against ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, remained painfully visible.

At the stroke of midnight, two reporters from independent news media were married in the opposition-run town of Soko Banja in central Serbia, the Beta news agency reported.

``We wish all future couples will be married in freedom,″ said the groom, Vojkan Ristic, a Beta reporter. His bride, Suzana Antic, of the daily newspaper Danas echoed wishes that all Serbian towns will soon become ``free,″ a term applied to those communities hoverned by opponents of President Slobodan Milosevic.

Here in Kosovo, heavily armed French soldiers patrolled the Kosovoska Mitrovica bridge, scene of frequent clashes between the city’s two communities.

``People are expecting quick results but just give us some time and you will see,″ Kouchner said of achieving ethnic peace here.

Kouchner was joined by the city’s ethnic Albanian leader, Bajram Rexhepi, and Oliver Ivanovic, head of the smaller Serb community.

``We must have courage, and we have to try to unify this town,″ Ivanovic said. ``I hope that we will succeed.″

Rexhepi said he hoped ``that we will work together toward unifying this city″ in the new year.

In Kosovo’s capital, Pristina, 30 miles southeast of here, thousands of ethnic Albanians jammed the main street in front of the National Theater, greeting the new millennium with fresh demands for the release of compatriots held in Yugoslav jails following the Kosovo conflict.

``Tonight, when the whole world is celebrating, thousands of Albanians are being tortured in the cells of the Serb criminals,″ said Shukrije Rexha, a protest organizer. ``Let us not forget tonight our beloved ones who are not with us.″

Thousands of ethnic Albanians are believed still held in Yugoslav jails more than six months after the Kosovo conflict ended with Milosevic’s acceptance of a Western peace plan after 78 days of NATO bombing.

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