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Ethnic Albanians Wait for Help

August 4, 1999

CABRA, Yugoslavia (AP) _ In this Kosovo Albanian village, only one house is left standing. All the others _ 222 of them _ are rubble.

Even in a land full of stark images of war, the obsessive destruction of the small village of Cabra stands out. Except for the one intact dwelling, all the houses are piles of smashed brick, wood and concrete littered with rusted appliances.

The tall rubble mounds appear almost orderly, lining the dirt roads, just like the houses they once formed.

``Here. I was born in this house,″ said Osman Rama, 58, a local political leader, as he pointed at one pile Wednesday. Next to it stood a green military tent provided by the U.N. refugee agency, where he sleeps with seven others each night.

Rama knows why Serb forces took the time and effort to systematically decimate his village. It was the only ethnic Albanian settlement in an all-Serb municipality six miles west of Mitrovica in northern Kosovo, he said.

In past campaigns against ethnic Albanians, Serbs plundered Cabra to try to drive away its inhabitants, who always stayed on.

But even that historical perspective does not help Rama understand the scope of destruction this time.

``This is the only village in Kosovo that doesn’t exist any longer,″ he said. ``It’s almost funny. ... If I was a Serb, I would never travel so far to destroy a place like this. It’s dangerous, you’re using gas, all these things. But they did it, unfortunately.″

The story begins like so many others _ Serb shelling that started March 29, five days after NATO launched its air campaign against Yugoslavia to force a Kosovo peace settlement. Next was the plundering of farm animals, cars, appliances and other belongings after the residents fled. Then came three attempts to burn the village, but wet, cold spring weather in the mountains prevented the Serbs from completing the job.

So, as Rama watched from vantage points overlooking the village, five bulldozers moved in and spent two weeks knocking down ``every wall.″

``It was horrible, horrible,″ he said, his eyes moist with tears, still incredulous that his Serb neighbors in nearby villages allowed the destruction. ``We had good relations with other villages. We helped them, they helped us. We felt they would protect us. And they should have.″

Help is starting to come now. The U.N. Development Program plans to begin clearing the rubble Sunday, and Peace Winds, a Japanese aid agency, is sending 180 prefabricated housing units to provide shelter in time for the bitter Balkan winter. There’s still no power or local food source, but at least there’s a store _ a small table set up at the main crossroads with cigarettes, candy and potato chips for sale.

For the several hundred villagers who have returned to stay in the military tents, any help is appreciated.

Shefkije Syla, whose yellowed teeth and thin, lined face make her look much older than her 51 years, worries how her newest grandchild _ 3-month-old Elbasan _ will survive.

She cares for Elbasan because his mother is hospitalized in Mitrovica with tuberculosis. Born while the family lived in forced exile in neighboring Albania, the boy, named for the town where they stayed, has just gotten over a cold blamed on the nighttime highland chill. Shefkije said she wakes at night, sometimes due to shooting by Serbs from other villages, to warm the boy’s hands.

``It’s good that we’re still sane because it’s the most terrible feeling in the world,″ she said of returning to the destroyed village. ``I don’t know how we deal with it. I have this terrible pain in my stomach, seeing (Elbasan) live like this.″

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