Kosovan Serbs call for partition after mob attack

Chris Bird in Gracanica

The Observer - Friday October 29, 1999

Kosovo's embattled Serb leadership yesterday renewed its calls for the creation of ethnically pure areas after a mob of ethnic Albanians attacked a convoy of Serb refugees which was being escorted by United Nations peacekeepers.

One leader, Father Sava Janjic, a Serbian Orthodox priest, said he was not sure of his own safety when travelling with a K-For escort between Kosovo's isolated Serb communities.

"It seems that K-For is incapable of protecting the Serbs," he said. "I don't know who will dare leave on these convoys now."

Terrified Serbs - including children - were dragged from an estimated 19 vehicles in the western town of Pec on Wednesday by an angry ethnic Albanian mob. K-For said yesterday it had evacuated all 155 members of the convoy to neighbouring Montenegro.

The new German commander of K-For, General Klaus Reinhardt, condemned the incident in a short statement, but declined to be questioned on the security lapse.

In an interview earlier this week for Nato's K-For Chronicle magazine, Gen Reinhardt admitted: "We can certainly not guard each single house or person in this province."

The general's spokesman, Lt Col Henning Philipp, said K-For had secured Serb monasteries and churches. He said many peacekeepers were staying in Serb homes. "We have the presence of 40,000 troops on the ground," he said. "We are able to provide a very high standard of security."

But Father Sava said that since Nato troops had entered in June, 500 Serbs were missing and 300 murdered; 70 religious sites in Kosovo had been damaged or destroyed; a large number of Serb homes had been burned; and at least half the original Serb population of 200,000 had been forced to flee.

The attacks have only abated as the Serb and Roma population, outnumbered nine to one by ethnic Albanians before the war, continue to leave. International agencies, including the UN, have advised their Serb employees to leave the provincial capital, Pristina, for the comparative safety of nearby Gracanica.

Unlike the ghetto in the town of Orahovac, which the convoy of Serbs had fled, the Serbs in Gracanica lead a safer existence, under the protection of Swedish infantry.

A waiter in the 1389 cafe - named after the date of the Serb defeat by the Ottoman Turks which for Serbs holds an almost mystical significance - said yesterday he had no plans to leave. "I don't believe in K-For," he said. "But we are here and we have nowhere else to go."

Father Sava said such ethnically pure communities ("cantons") offered Serbs their best future in Kosovo.

The Serb leadership called on K-For this summer to create cantons in which Serbs would administer themselves.

But the UN administration is committed to a multi-ethnic Kosovo. Cantons are also fiercely opposed by ethnic Albanian leaders, who are against any plan to partition the province, which they hope will one day be independent.