Related topics

Kosovo Albanians Return to Jobs

August 2, 1999

PRISTINA, Yugoslavia (AP) _ Thousands of ethnic Albanian students and professors reclaimed Pristina University on Monday, returning to the classrooms they were evicted from 10 years ago in a crackdown by the Serb government.

The return of students and teachers was symbolically important for international officials trying to reintroduce normality in Kosovo after a decade of ethnic tension capped by more than a year of fighting and 78 days of NATO airstrikes.

Thousands of ethnic Albanians began losing their jobs when the Serb-controlled government stripped the province of its autonomy in 1989. Kosovo’s population is predominantly ethnic Albania.

When ethnic Albanian faculty and students left, they held their classes underground and the university was taken over by Serbs. Speaking at Monday’s ceremonial reopening, Kosovo Liberation Army leader Hashim Thaci, now prime minister of Kosovo’s provisional government, declared to the returning teachers and students: ``These buildings belong to you!″

Despite the presence of nearly 40,000 NATO peacekeepers, the province remains riven by ethnic hatred, as returning Kosovo Albanians seek revenge on remaining Serbs for the killings and mass expulsions committed by the Yugoslav army and Serb police.

Standing on the steps of the philosophy department, Thaci and Zenel Kelmendi, rector of the university, addressed a crowd of about 5,000 students, who will spend the month making up missed classes and exams before the official start of classes in September. All classes will be held in Albanian.

``A ghost once said that we will never step onto this university again,″ Kelmendi said, alluding to the Serbs who drove them out. ``But we are here now and we are here to stay.″

At the same time, Kelmedi pledged to make the institution an ``open university for all who want to study here, it doesn’t matter what background.″

Meanwhile, Bernard Kouchner, who heads the U.N. mission in Kosovo, accompanied hundreds of ethnic Albanian postal and telecommunication workers back to their jobs in downtown Pristina. Kouchner promised money and equipment to help rebuild the damaged and outdated telecommunication network in the province.

``Ever since September 1990, I dreamed about this day, because when I was expelled I never thought I would be back here again,″ said Emine Rexhepi, 50, who was among those returning.

NATO and U.N. officials, normally forced to deal with daily incidents of ethnically motivated violence, welcomed Monday’s change of pace. On Sunday, an Orthodox church was bombed in the heart of Kosovo’s capital.

In new reports of violence possibly rooted in ethnic hatred, Yugoslavia’s state-run Tanjug news agency reported that a 90-year-old Serb woman was found strangled in her bathtub Monday in Pristina, and the private Beta news agency said a Serb was killed in Lipljan, 10 miles south of the provincial capital.

Separately, peacekeepers confirmed that the bodies of two Serbs were found in the Kamenica area south of Pristina. That sparked new tensions, with Serb protesters on each end of Kamenica effectively trapping the town’s ethnic Albanian population and the Albanians staging a sit-down protest at a Russian roadblock set up to contain the confrontation.

More than 350 international police officers have taken up beats across Kosovo, according to the United Nations.

The international officers will help police the province until a new local force can be recruited and trained. International organizations helping to build up Kosovo’s police force already have begun evaluating applicants.

Update hourly