A tall order to protect all Kosovars
A mortar attack shows the difficulties in preserving Kosovo's multiethnic society
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Colonel Reese immediately ordered his soldiers into action. Spotters in high watchtowers tried to zero in on the coordinates of the attacker. Tanks rumbled to block roads, while soldiers searched cars and frisked drivers, who were forced onto their knees with hands on their heads.Skip to next paragraph
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Helicopters conducted thermal scans of nearby fields, looking for signs of heat that might betray the "Mad Mortar Man." But the attacker was gone.
"Here we go again," Reese's driver said, as the commander's Humvee sped toward the impact site. There, family members and friends gathered around the two dead.
US troops treated the wounded and loaded several onto stretchers to be flown out by helicopter to an American combat hospital. The intense fear and emotion felt by these Serbs was evident in the face of one of the victim's mothers, who could not control her grief.
Americans from the small nearby Warlord Base were affected too. "The boy used to stop by every day to see us, and ask, 'How are you guys do- ing?' " one soldier told another quietly, standing by the carnage. "Yeah," replied Lt. Ken Henson, a medic: "We've got to get that guy."
"It's depressing, because attacks are routine," said another US medic, after the helicopter evacuation. "There is nothing we can do for these people. We're rolling in tanks, while [the attackers] are on foot, in their own backyards."
Serbs at the scene agreed that earlier in the day, an ethnic Albanian man by the name of Gunar, from the nearby village of Radivojce, had come to a local bar and threatened violence against Serbs. "Just wait until tonight," he allegedly said.
After the mortar attack, young Serbian men vowed to be the first to find Gunar. According to the Americans, one said, "We just want you to know, we know this man and we are going to take care of it. We're going to kill him. We will pay them [ethnic Albanians] back."
But American officers stuck to their mandate and warned that the Serbs would be arrested if they took such action.
Reese, furthermore, was skeptical about the various accusations. In all the time his troops had been here, not one ethnic Albanian had ever given any intelligence about another, and no Serb had given a tip-off about another Serb. Allegations about the "enemy" group, however, flowed far too readily and were often mixed up in petty grievances.
Still, the colonel mounted an operation with 15 soldiers in a truck and more in a Humvee. In Gunar's ethnic Albanian town of Radivojce, tanks blocked the road, and the assault team searched his house, attached to which was a mechanic's workshop. They had been there before, and once three vehicles identified by Serbs as being involved in grenade attacks perfectly matched cars found here.
Gunar, wearing overalls stained with car grease, protested his innocence. A neighbor said he would vouch for his whereabouts all night. A thorough search yielded nothing, but Gunar and his brother were taken for questioning.
Sniffer dogs would start first, to find any trace of residue from explosives.
"A dry hole," sighed Reese, as the Americans finished their search. In light of so much violence, he was asked, will there be any Serbs left in this area in a year?
"If we can't do better than we are doing now, no," Reese said. "It takes only a single attack like this one to undo the good we have done. We'll keep trying, and we're getting smarter. We've cut down on random shootings, house burnings, and grenade throwing.
"But we've just got to figure out this guy with the mortar."
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society