Newsday - Serbs leave tense Kosovo town in Nato convoy

Saturday December 25

By Andrew Roche

ORAHOVAC, Serbia (Reuters) - A convoy of peacekeeping vehicles carrying injured, sick and elderly Serbs with children left a Kosovo town for government-controlled Serbia on Saturday, fleeing winter cold and ethnic strife in the province.

``At home in Orahovac we have no heating, the temperature is below zero all the time. We are freezing,'' Stanka Janetovic, 34, told Reuters. Her son Goran, 7, was suffering from pneumonia and the medical unit in Orahovac had no antibiotics.

``The injured and children suffer the most. Besides keeping them warm, we have no other means to treat them nor feed them,'' she said, adding that she wanted to take her son to the safety of Nis, a large city in southern Serbia.

Kosovo, a southern province of Serbia, has been under U.N. administration since June when Serbian security forces halted a bloody crackdown on separatist ethnic Albanians and withdrew under NATO bombardment.

Serbs remaining in Kosovo have been subjected to revenge violence by majority Albanians since NATO-led peacekeepers arrived and tens of thousands of Serbs have fled the province as a result.

Orahovac, a town in central Kosovo, has an enclave of 2,000 Serbs who feel menaced by surrounding Albanians.

On their way out of Kosovo, the 46 Serbs in the convoy from Orahovac stopped at the Russian hospital in Kosovo Polje, where six Serbs injured in ethnic violence were treated recently, before continuing onwards to central Serbia.

Orahovac's ethnic Albanians say that local Serbs were involved in massacres of their kin during the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia earlier this year.

Serb 'Concentration Camp' In Orahovac

For their part, Orahovac Serbs say they are living in a ghetto akin to a concentration camp, under the constant threat of ethnic Albanian attacks.

They say 10 Serbs have been killed and more than 10 injured since the arrival of the KFOR peace force.

Last week, one Serb was killed and several wounded in a grenade attack on a cafe, after which Orahovac Serbs gathered before the local Orthodox church demanding KFOR enable them to leave safely or they would all walk to Montenegro, a neighboring Yugoslav republic.

They shelved the idea until another reported bomb attack on a Serb house on Friday night.

After several hours of negotiations with KFOR, they reached a deal to let a group of 46, including six injured, 12 ailing elderly people and children with their families, leave in KFOR vehicles.

``I have relatives in Vojvodina (northern Serbia) and hope to get there to save my children, because they need urgent medical treatment. They suffer malnutrition and cold,'' Milica Kujundzic, mother of eight-month-old Ivan and three-year-old Tamara, said.

Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev, due to return home later on Saturday after a two-day visit to Yugoslavia which included a stop in Kosovo, was quoted by the state agency Tanjug as saying he hoped Russian peacekeepers would eventually operate in the Orahovac area to reassure its Serbs.

Ethnic Albanians blocked roads around Orahovac with cars and tractors from August to November to prevent Russians from taking over security in the area from Dutch soldiers as scheduled.

Kosovo Albanians say the Russians have a pro-Serb bias.

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