Hope and fear shape war on the ground

Under NATO bombs, Serbs both revel and tremble while ethnic Albanians

Patriotic music roared from massive speakers in the Square of the Republic. A local human rights worker prepared to go into hiding. And an ethnic Albanian trapped in the Serbian capital said he was "scared to death."

As NATO airstrikes against Yugoslavia entered a seventh day today, a range of human hopes and fears coursed through Belgrade and beyond, perhaps influencing a war that still has an uncertain end.

The human rights worker, for one, fears "Serbs will be killed, Albanians will be killed, and paramilitary forces will profit. Human life means nothing here anymore. There is not one sane voice."

Serbs, reveling in their defiance of NATO attacks, rejoiced at the downing of an American stealth bomber. "You will lose the war," says a longtime dissident in Belgrade.

In Kosovo, people fled from Serb killings even as many in the capital, Pristina, cheered after hearing detonations near Serb tanks and police. When the ethnic Albanians received word that the notorious police station in the central town of Malisevo had been hit, hope, for a moment, overcame fear.

"If NATO goes on attacking them, the [Kosovo Liberation Army] might rescue us," said a man in Pristina who was sheltering more than 20 ethnic Albanians in his house.

But despite that glimmer of hope, a dark situation has taken hold of Kosovo. NATO officials said yesterday that five prominent ethnic Albanians, including Fehmi Agani, who participated in the peace talks in France, had been executed.

In Pec, a city in western Kosovo, Serbian forces were reportedly forcing ethnic Albanians onto buses out of Kosovo and into the neighboring countries of Albania and Macedonia, as well as the second Yugoslav republic, Montenegro.

International officials have accused the Yugoslav forces of "ethnic cleansing," a bitter phrase that evokes memories of the wars in Bosnia and Croatia. There are also reports of mass killings, the use of ethnic Albanians as human shields, and shellings that have set scores of villages on fire.

Most reports are impossible to verify because journalists and international relief workers have fled or been forced from the region.

The KLA's radio station reported 20 ethnic Albanians burned to death in their homes in the western city of Djakovica, 12 people killed in Pec, and an execution of seven people in the town of Stimlje, near Pristina. They also gave the names of 46 people allegedly massacred in the central village of Bela Crkva, based on the accounts of two survivors.

Serbian officials blame the fighting on ethnic Albanian "terrorists," whom they say are attacking and provoking the police.

As the Serbs attacked with superior firepower, the KLA appeared unable to help the civilian population. It appealed to people to remain in Kosovo and join the fight, according to Albanian television, which can be picked up by satellite dish in Kosovo.

"With NATO bombing the Yugoslav ground troops, maybe the KLA will approach Pristina, and we will have weapons and a chance to fight this ethnic cleansing," says a university student in Pristina.

In a sign that ethnic tensions were fanning out through Yugoslavia, another group, Muslims from Sandzak, in southwest Serbia, were also reportedly under pressure from the Serbs to leave their homes. "A large number of Muslims have left," says Rasim Ljajic, a political leader in Sandzak. "They are afraid that Bosnia might happen again."

In Serbia, the Yugoslav government and Army tightened controls. The Serbian minister of Justice, Dragoljub Jankovic, sent a request to the federal government to introduce capital punishment, presumably for the prosecution of traitors and deserters. And the Army reportedly established military courts over the weekend.

Government officials also are trying to prevent black-market trade, and on Sunday police arrested eight people in the southern city of Nis for selling gasoline, local newspapers reported.

The mood on the streets ranges from fear to anger to confusion. Serbs were still exuberant over the crash Saturday night of a US fighter plane, and even liberal-minded people expressed confidence that they could win a war with NATO - or at least make Kosovo America's next Vietnam.

"Sometimes I wish we could live by ourselves, without interference from the outside world," says a pensioner on Belgrade's main walking street, in front of the French Cultural Center, which had been destroyed. "But I know that we will have to come to terms with the West someday."

Even opposition politicians and dissidents were outraged by the airstrikes, which have come in waves late at night, setting off fires and glowing on the horizon.

Nenad Canak, an opposition leader in the northern city of Novi Sad, criticized NATO planners for attacking without clear goals. He said that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's regime was only getting stronger and that the opposition had been completely wiped out.

"There is no vision behind this," says Mr. Canak, a politician who has campaigned for years for democracy and ethnic tolerance. "The airstrikes are doubling the humanitarian catastrophe - not only in Kosovo but everywhere else [in Yugoslavia]."

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
QR Code to Hope and fear shape war on the ground
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today