Last days of Serb enclave in divided city

KOSOVSKA MITROVICA, Jul 26, 2000 -- (AFP) Music plays on the radio as Refik Sufi paints his new house, the first bought by an Albanian family in the tiny Serbian quarter in the south of this divided Kosovo city.

A handful of Serbs huddled around the town's Serbian Orthodox church see his arrival as "the beginning of the end" for their increasingly isolated community.

"Soon the Albanians will arrive at our door and we'll have to go," laments 32-year-old Slavica Nojic, angry tears running down her face.

Since the 1998-1999 Kosovo war, the city has become divided into a northern Serbian sector and an ethnic-Albanian south. Peacekeepers from the French-led KFOR brigade based in the city have made it part of their mission to protect the minority communities living on the "wrong side," but little by little both are shrinking.

In October there were around 100 Serbs living in a street near the church. Now there are 14, including three priests.

If they want to move around, they must do so under military escort. But if they stay put, their life, they say, is like "being in a prison".

And those who have so far clung on say the pressure on them is mounting. Most have now put there houses on the market. Those houses are likely to be bought by ethnic Albanian families.

"The others have gone to the north of Mitrovica, they don't think they'll ever come back, so they sell up," Slavica, who works in a center for the handicapped, said.

Wearing an Orthodox crucifix, Slavica passes nervously in front of Number 17, where the Sufi family have for four days been renovating their new home, bought for 15,000 marks (7,200 dollars) from a Serb family that fled to Germany.

Access to the narrow street is still sealed off with rolls of razor wire and overseen by a platoon of Polish peacekeepers, but for Slavica the arrival of the Sufi family is a turning point.

"Soon the Albanians won't even let us live here in our cage," she said.

"As soon as one or two Albanians arrive, that's it for our security," said her father Svetislav Nojic, "They could easily throw a grenade."

The 62-year-old white bearded Orthodox priest is bitter.

"I'm going to go and see General Jean-Louis Sublet (chief of the French-led KFOR brigade) to ask him to seal off access to our church with barbed wire, so we are in a concentration camp," he said.

If the Serbs want to visit other members of their tiny community they can't do so in the street in case they become the victim of attacks from the Albanians.

Dosta Dikic, the priest's assistant, has sealed up the front door of her house with barbed wire and a sheet of iron. To get to church, the 52-year-old scales the back wall of her yard with a ladder and picks her way through a patch of nettles.

Once inside she joins Slavica, who is sitting on a bench with her sister and mother, drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes.

In the street outside an Albanian wedding procession rolls past, honking their car horns and brandishing the red banner of Kosovo, their shouts of celebration mingling with the sound of the industrious Sufi's radio.

"I can't see any future for Serbs in Kosovo," Slavica sighs.

Original article