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Albanians Return to Kosovo Schools

March 31, 1998

PRISTINA, Yugoslavia (AP) _ Seven years after leaving their classrooms to protest Serb domination, ethnic Albanian students on Tuesday once again held the keys to a university building in volatile Kosovo province.

Foreign pressure on Serb authorities to ease their harsh rule in Kosovo led to the agreement last week to reopen Pristina university to ethnic Albanians, who represent 90 percent of the Serb province’s population.

After hours of negotiations, Sadri Fetiu, director of the Institute for Albanian Studies, appeared before the school’s locked door and said in Albanian, ``I have the keys.″

Around 300 people clapped and cheered, took out their own keys and jingled them. Then they left. It was not clear why they did not enter the building, but it was late in the evening when the gathering occurred.

Earlier, Serb students vacated the building where they had studied biology since the Albanians left in 1991. Placards reading ``Treason″ were taped to outside walls.

``If this agreement is implemented, there will be no Serbs left in this university by next school year,″ Serb student leader Zivojin Rakocevic said. ``There will be no place for us.″

Serb professors packed up Monday, preferring to leave the building rather than share it with Albanian colleagues.

``A lot of evil is between us now. I don’t know how this is going to work,″ said an assistant in the French department, who identified herself only as Radmila.

Serbs treasure Kosovo as the cradle of their culture and fear that last week’s agreement is part of a broader deal that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic is under foreign pressure to make with the Albanians. Serbia is the dominant republic in Yugoslavia.

The education agreement was signed in 1996 but Milosevic never implemented it. The accord signed last week failed to address key issues such as curriculum, but is designed to get all Albanian students back into classrooms by September.

A possible hitch was a reported demand by Albanian teachers to receive back pay for the years since they were barred from teaching at Kosovo’s schools.

According to Belgrade’s B92 radio, one Albanian signatory to last week’s education agreement, Abdul Rama, said Albanian teachers had taught throughout in parallel university and schools, and should be paid.

Milosevic ruled with a heavy hand after stripping Kosovo of autonomy in 1989: Albanians either were sacked from or deserted state institutions, setting up parallel institutions, including schools.

A Serbian police crackdown against alleged armed Albanian militants in March left more than 80 people dead in Kosovo, stirring fears of a new Balkan war.

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