Diplomats say Kosovo could be 'the next Bosnia' Area's population mostly Albanian

November 12, 1992|By Dusko Doder | Dusko Doder,Contributing Writer

PRISTINA, Kosovo -- The feared Chetnik symbol fluttered on a Serbian flag. Beside it flew the royal Serbian double-headed eagle and a large photograph of "Duke" Vojislav Seselj, the BTC mastermind of ethnic cleansing. Surrounded by these symbols of Serbian power, Milorad Jevric of the Serb Radical Party detailed the plans for what could be the next Bosnia.

Its name is Kosovo. Its population is mostly Albanian. But the Serbs want it. Diplomats say it may not be a question of whether but when Serbian guns will be trained on it.

The 90 percent Albanian population would be bombarded from outside Kosovo, "only, of course, if they attack us," said Mr. Jevric. Serbian refugees from towns in Croatia and Bosnia would be brought in. "We have chosen 100 villages," he said.

The plan is beyond the drawing-board stage: Historic treasures have been removed from the medieval Serbian Orthodox monastery in Pec to safety in Serbia. The most modern equipment has been spirited out of many local factories. Camouflaged tanks and heavy guns stand in combat position south of Prokuplje on the Kosovo border.

The majority Albanians here take small comfort from the knowledge the Seselj-Jevric plan has been placed on hold. Albanian leaders assume this is because Serbia cannot afford to open up a second front, especially while United Nations sanctions are crippling its economy over Serbian conduct in Bosnia.

But de facto ethnic cleansing is already taking place. Ethnic Albanians do not want to talk about it -- that would weaken their claims to independence -- but they already are fleeing in large numbers.

A prominent Albanian journalist said privately that a half-million people already have left. When pressed, even Fehmi Agani, deputy leader of the largest Albanian political party, gave a figure of more than 200,000 out of a total population of 2 million.

The mass exodus -- to Germany, Scandinavia, Britain -- is a triumph for the Serbs, proof that their policy is working.

Kosovo -- roughly half the size of Maryland -- is run like a police state, though under the old Yugoslav constitution it is supposed to be an autonomous region within Serbia. Torture is widespread.

Recently, a 16-year-old girl, Sabrije Rrustag, had her ear ripped off by police as she demonstrated in Pec for Albanian schools and universities to be re-opened. They have been shut down for two years since Albanians refused to accept a Serbian curriculum.

Almost no Albanian has a job in Kosovo. Most were thrown out of the administration two years ago. Serbs are brought down from Belgrade in rotation to man all essential posts from police to hospitals.

Not that Albanians will visit Serbian doctors: They go for treatment to small private clinics run by Albanian doctors. Unlike at state clinics, the doctors have to charge. "About 20 percent do not pay and we don't do anything about it, though," said one doctor, Shpetiru Robaj.

The Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe is concerned with reports of human rights abuses and fears Kosovo could be the next region of the former Yugoslavia to dissolve in civil war. It has sent a permanent team to monitor the situation.

The presence of the monitors appears to be having a calming effect. But it is hard to see how any solution can be forged. The Albanians would like independence and an eventual union with Albanians in Albania as well as Albanians in neighboring Macedonia.

But Albania proper is in no position to offer help: The poorest country in Europe is in economic and psychological straits as it attempts to emerge from decades of isolation and cruelty under Stalinist dictator Enver Hoxha.

For Serbs, there is no question of giving up Kosovo. It is drummed into their souls from an early age that Kosovo is the cradle of their civilization and site of a decisive battle in the 14th century.

When Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic came to power five years ago, he did so on promises that he would make Kosovo Serbian -- reversing the considerable autonomy the late Yugoslav leader Josip Broz Tito accorded the Albanians.

The Serbs say their ancestors had lived in Kosovo as far back as the Middle Ages -- as demonstrated by their medieval monastery in Pec. Therefore, they say, Kosovo is theirs. They add that the Albanians may be numerically superior but that they are relative newcomers, having lived in the region only a century or two.

But while the Serbs say the Serbs in Croatia and Bosnia are a people who should be given autonomy, they refuse to acknowledge that the same should be true for the Albanians in Kosovo.

The Albanians likewise are unable to tolerate the Serbs any longer.

More than 100 ethnic Albanians have died in the past three years in clashes with Serbian security forces.

Yesterday an ethnic Albanian was shot and killed and at least two soldiers were injured in a skirmish near the Yugoslav army headquarters in Pristina, media sources reported.

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