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Serbs Face Ongoing Revenge Attacks

July 20, 1999

ORAHOVAC, Yugoslavia (AP) _ As NATO Gen. Wesley Clark assured a group of ethnic Albanians that they were now safe, smoke billowed Tuesday on the outskirts of this western Kosovo town. Serbs said it came from a Serb house set ablaze in a reprisal attack by ethnic Albanians.

``Our houses are burning and (NATO) does nothing. The Albanians are kidnapping and killing us, and they don’t react,″ said Novica Ulamovic, a 40-year-old resident of the town’s Serb quarter, which has become a ghetto of fear.

``Nobody cares about us,″ said another Serb resident, 61-year-old Zora Radovanovic.

Five weeks after NATO troops entered Kosovo and ended atrocities committed by Serb forces against ethnic Albanians, it is now the dwindling Serb population that suffers most from daily arson attacks, killings and abductions. Some are individual acts of revenge, while others appear part of an organized effort.

A people once privileged in the province are living in fear. Many are fleeing.

The leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army, Hashim Thaci, denies his forces are systematically targeting Serbs and has appealed to his followers to refrain from revenge attacks. Still, he says in speeches, there is no place in Kosovo for Serbs ``with blood on their hands.″

In an interview published Tuesday, Thaci distanced himself from the violence against Serbs.

``From the very beginning, the KLA’s aim was to liberate Kosovo from Serb military-police forces, not the destruction, burning, robbing, looting and killing of Serb civilians,″ Thaci was quoted as saying in Rilindija, a Kosovo daily which reappeared on newsstands Tuesday after being banned by authorities in 1991.

The rash of attacks has prompted appeals for the protection of Serbs by international organizations. The U.N. refugee agency calls it ``the most critical issue″ in Kosovo.

``We understand the deep feelings of refugees who are returning to Kosovo and finding their houses destroyed ... and relatives killed,″ said Ron Redmond, a spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in Pristina, the capital.

``But the last thing Kosovo and the Balkans need is another round of ethnic expulsions. It makes a mockery of what the UNHCR is trying to do.″

With fewer than 50,000 Serbs left in the province, the scale of the attacks pales in comparison to the Serb campaign that killed a reported 10,000 ethnic Albanians and left huge swaths of Kosovo in ruins, blasted by Serb artillery or torched to the ground. Some 860,000 ethnic Albanians fled.

Still, the ethnically inspired violence defies attempts to build trust in Kosovo

On Monday, four Serb houses were set on fire in the southwestern city of Prizren, where 183 people _ mainly Serbs, but also a few ethnic Albanians accused of being collaborators _ are holed up in a Serbian Orthodox monastery, the U.N. refugee agency said.

NATO soldiers are protecting the monastery, along with other Serb religious buildings in the eastern town of Pec, as well as isolated Serb villages.

In Pristina, British soldiers guarded buildings where Serbs have apartments. Some Serbs were afraid to leave even for errands, Redmond said.

He said ethnic Albanians have been observed dousing their own houses with water shortly before a neighboring Serb house goes up in flames, and ``systematic harassment″ was suspected.

In Pec, two Serb houses were set on fire within several hundred yards of the Italian brigade command Sunday.

The U.N. refugee agency says more than 165,000 Serbs have left Kosovo since June 12. Some have returned under NATO escort, but more Serbs continue to flee.

Many ethnic Albanians justify the attacks against Serbs.

``We are still afraid because they all have weapons,″ said Xhemaijli Mashu, a 52-year-old ethnic Albanian sitting in Orahovac’s main square waiting for Clark to arrive.

Mashu lives in a section of town flanked by side streets where several thousand Serbs live. He said he never talks to his neighbors. Will Serbs and ethnic Albanians ever live in peace together? ``Never, never, never!″ he said.

Among Serbs, the mistrust and fear is just as great. Both sides accuse each other of mistreatment or oppression in past decades.

``Only Albanian mass graves are found. Nobody remembers the Serbs who are killed,″ said Dobrila Vitosevic, a 35-year-old Serb. She has bundles of clothes and blankets packed and ready for the moment she and her extended family decide it is time to leave.

``Serbs never complain. They just suffer,″ she said. ``Even if people don’t see the truth, God will.″

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