NYT - November 5, 1999

Gypsies and Others Said to Draw Kosovar Fury

PRISTINAo -- Kosovo Albanians have become increasingly aggressive in attacking not only Serbs in this battered province, but also Gypsies and other ethnic minorities, according to foreign officials in charge of restoring peaceful administration in Kosovo.

A joint report issued here on Wednesday by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees described "a climate of violence and impunity."

Attacks by the Albanians against the dwindling Serbian population and the Gypsies are continuing unabated, officials of the European organization said, and, in a new step, Muslim Slavs in the Prizren area in southern Kosovo are suffering intense intimidation and violence.

The officials said there was growing evidence that the Kosovo Albanian leadership was behind some of the harassment and was encouraging the formation of an intolerant monoethnic state.

Moderate Albanians who have spoken out against the violence have been subjected to threats. Minorities in Kosovo, confused and frightened, are retreating behind a wall of silence, as they lose faith in the international organizations that are on the scene to protect them.

Monitors from the European organization, entrusted with the democratization of Kosovo and preparations for elections next year, have expressed especially strong alarm over the ugly atmosphere that is spreading across the province.

The Prizren region has become a source of particular concern, said the head of the regional security group here, Benedicte Giaever.

A center of culture and learning, ancient Prizren had always been regarded as an example of tolerance and multiethnic harmony in Kosovo. The slender minarets of its mosques mingle with the solid proportions of the Orthodox churches and monasteries, and Turkish is the common language, spoken alike by the Albanian, Serb, Turkish and Gypsy communities. The townspeople largely escaped the ethnic purges that ravaged the province this year. Yet they have not avoided the purging of Serbs and other minority groups since then.

A retired government clerk, Vojislav Stankovic, 80, was one of the few Serbs still living in his own house -- until the weekend. Youths broke into the house and struck him in the face with a stone. The next day they returned, tied him up and threatened him with a knife. They told him that they wanted his house and that he should leave.

"They said they would slaughter me," he recounted. "I asked them, 'Why, what have I done?' And they said, 'If you do not leave by 10 tomorrow, we will cut you into pieces and throw you into the river.' "

He was sitting on a bed in the Serbian Orthodox seminary in Prizren, where he had sought refuge. His tone was deadpan, his face and eye a bruised mess from the stone. Beside him was a plastic bag of clothes, the only belongings that he had taken. Some 160 Serbs and members of other minority groups, mostly old people and children, are taking shelter in the seminary, guarded by German troops.

The Serbian quarter, a collection of old tiled town houses, climbs the hill behind the seminary. The steep cobbled streets wind through a scene of devastation of charred rafters and rubble. One house was still smoking, set afire a few days ago.

An Albanian couple in the area said a house was burned almost nightly. They said they did not know who was responsible and refused to give their names or be interviewed.

Albanians appear uncomfortable about the burnings. But few publicly condemn the violence against the Serbian neighbors. "It is the same to me whether the Serbs stay here or go," the man said.

In the western part of the town, 2,000 Gypsies are starting to experience a similar fate. On Monday night Isa Viseli, 27, a street cleaner, fled with his family when Albanians shouted a warning that they had arrived to burn their house.

"They shouted, 'Leave the house, go!' " Viseli said. "So we left. When we had gone halfway, I looked back and saw the house was burning."

He scrambled down the hillside with his wife, three children, his brother's family and his parents. They are living in a relative's house, joining other refugees in the increasingly overcrowded Gypsy community clustered around the city hospital. They had lost everything, he said, and were worried that they would be thrown out of their new refuge. His father, Bajram, sat silently, his dark eyes troubled.

"The Albanians have changed since the war," he said. "But I never expected them to burn our house."

Albanians have often accused Gypsies of collaborating with the Serbian forces in the conflict. Now they are turning to the 17,000 Goranis, or Muslim Slavs, who live in the mountainous southern tip of Kosovo. In the last two weeks, European security officials in Dragas, the administrative center of the Gorani district, have reported seven grenade attacks on Gorani families.

Tossed into gardens, courtyards or shops, the grenades are intended to intimidate, to make the Goranis leave or to stop those who had left from thinking of returning, said Maria Avello Martinez of the European group.

The Goranis' misfortune is that their language is close to Serbian and that they were loyal to the Belgrade government. "We are not being pushed out," Merfid Huseini, a young lawyer in Dragas, said. "But these attacks are a warning to those who did collaborate."

Some people profit from the general anarchy, too, Huseini said.

Lt. Col. Peter Michalski, a spokesman for the German commander of the NATO forces in the region, denied knowledge of the grenade attacks in Dragas and questioned the veracity of many of the accounts of violence in Prizren.

"The situation is very calm now and has been for several weeks," Colonel Michalski said.

But another German officer, who insisted on anonymity, said the NATO troops were eager to avoid clashes and were choosing not to tackle the rampant crimes head on. "They want to go home with a clean uniform," the second officer said.

A result is that Albanians are being allowed to threaten and even kill unprotected minority members with impunity, Ms. Giaever said, adding:

"We have to increase security. We have to find out who is doing it."

Ramush Haradinaj, a senior commander of the Kosovo Liberation Army and, now, of the Kosovo Protection Corps in Prizren, denied that the violence was organized. He also said it was no longer his responsibility, since the insurgents had been disarmed and converted into a civilian organization.

"It is not our task," Haradinaj said, "to keep law and order."