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Serbs Leave As Albanians Return Home

June 13, 1999

STIMLJE, Yugoslavia (AP) _ The reversal of fortunes in Kosovo had humanity in motion Sunday.

Ethnic Albanians returning to their homes streamed past Serbs abandoning theirs, each laden with plastic-wrapped belongings, anger and ill will.

``Why not stay?″ Albanian refugee Gani Baftiu shouted to a Serb family crammed into a car hauling a trailer carrying an old woman and a child.

He drew laughs from neighbors around him _ and a cold stare from Kosovo’s new refugees.

``We felt the same when they were beating us and expelling us from our homes,″ said Sitki Baftiu, an Albanian resident of a small settlement near Stimlje.

Ill feelings weren’t just passing between civilians.

In Stimlje, 15 miles southwest of the provincial capital, Pristina, NATO tanks moved past Yugoslav tanks on the narrow road through the village. NATO gunners trained their weapons on their opposites and menacing stares gave way to curses spoken in many languages.

Automatic weapons fire sounded on the road south of Prizren, and smoke plumes rose into the sky. Villagers said two houses had been set on fire.

Despite the tensions, the entry of Italian, British and German soldiers into western Kosovo as part of NATO’s peace-enforcing mission prompted elation.

``NATO! NATO! NATO!″ villagers lining Stimlje’s main road chanted, thrusting their children up to the windows of armored personnel carriers to present bouquets of garden roses.

Serb civilians sat in cars parked on the muddy side of the road, waiting for the convoy to pass.

One Serb man sitting in a car with his wife, each with assault rifles lying on their laps, replied with a profanity when asked why he was leaving.

Farther down the row of cars, a stocky, sweaty Serb man sat crying, surrounded by family and baggage.

Some Serbs said they had no intention of going _ at least, not yet.

``We will see how you will treat us,″ said Bozana Maksimovic, one of a crowd of villagers in Lipljan clustered on the roadside watching NATO tanks, trucks and armored personnel carriers roll in.

``Defend us! Don’t bomb us!″ an old Serb woman called out.

In Bregu i zi, the cheering of NATO troops was the first time the Albanian villagers had ventured to the main road in months. They had worked only in the far fields since Serbs fired on farmers at work, wounding four.

Although Bregu i zi was largely spared in the conflict, it was the exception for ethnic Albanian villages. People across the countryside were returning Sunday to homes destroyed by Serbs.

After three hungry weeks in the mountains and strangers’ houses, Bashkin Kelmemdi’s family was one of those headed back to their own village. They’d been told their home was demolished, Kelmemdi said.

Gani Baftiu, watching NATO troops come and Serbs go, said: ``They are not leaving because of our pressure. They are leaving because of what they’ve done.″

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