MORINA, YUGOSLAVIA — They are going back the same way they left, crammed with their meager belongings into cars, trucks, and tractor-drawn wagons, plastic sheets their only protection against a sudden burst of rain.
But the downpour fails to extinguish the smiles on their faces, the cheers with which they greet each other, the cacophonies of honking horns and the songs they sing as they flash "V" for victory at passersby.
Five days after NATO peacekeepers began moving into Kosovo, thousands of ethnic Albanian deportees have begun surging out of camps in Albania and Macedonia to reclaim the homeland from which almost 1 million were driven by Serbian "ethnic cleansing."
"Everything is over and we are going home," says Alban Krasniqi after driving through the Morina border crossing, where instead of Serbian police, German troops kept guard as United Nations aid workers registered the returnees.
The returnees' impatience to get home was greater than concerns for the dangers of land mines and the uncertainties of repairing their shattered lives before the Balkan winter.
Many are returning without knowing whether their homes are still standing. Large areas of Kosovo are without electricity, water, or adequate food supplies. International agencies are confronting the biggest relief operation in Europe since World War II.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society