Two Serbian sisters hole up in Pristina

Hiding in their apartments, Sasha and Dragana (not their real names) have a lot of time to think these days. Even as most of their Serbian countrymen left Kosovo when Serbian troops withdrew in June, they decided to stay.

The UN estimates there are only 1,000 to 2,000 Serbs remaining in Pristina out of a prewar population of some 30,000.

The sisters are just two of the Serbs now under threat from ethnic Albanian extremists. At first, Kosovo Force (KFOR) soldiers listened politely to the sisters' complaints that thugs were harassing them on the first floor of their building.

Someone knocked on the door in the middle of several nights and threatened to kill them if they didn't leave Kosovo. Once a hatchet was left behind. The sisters pushed a washing machine against the door. But last week the men came back, forced their way in, and struck one of the sisters.

Since then, Irish KFOR troops have taken up residence on the balcony and outside, to protect the remaining seven Serbs in the building. On Sasha and Dragana's doors are stickers noting that this is a "zone known for criminal acts."

The ladies almost never go out, imprisoned by fears of the ethnic Albanian majority who now, for the first time after a decade of Serbian repression, are in control. Few speak Serbian anymore in public, and these ladies don't speak Albanian, so even going shopping is a trial.

"Our world has turned upside down, and it's worse than any horror movie," says Dragana, staring blankly into an ashtray on her table that cradles a worn wristwatch.

"We never had a problem in this neighborhood - these [thugs] must be people from outside," adds Sasha.

"It's not the life we used to have," says Sasha. "Our friends and children have gone, and we can't have a meal outside. We're always waiting for that knock on the door."

While KFOR troops guard the entrance, an attack is unlikely. Sasha says her "broken heart" blames Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, and Dragana nods in agreement. But what will happen when those Irishmen withdraw?

"I'm already in a panic just thinking about it," Sasha says, her voice catching, "but they will have to go sometime."

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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