Terror Creeps Closer

By an IWPR Correspondent in Pristina
(Published on March 30, 1999)

Tuesday night, my parentsí home was filled with strangers. They had come from Dragoda,
the Albanian section of town, desperately seeking a safe place to spend the night. That
afternoon the police had entered each of the approximately 600 houses in that
neighbourhood and expelled everyone. It all happened in just two hours.

The police just came in and cleared everything out. While there were no reports of anyone being
killed in the incident, some residents were harassed. Armed men wearing black masks and blue
police helmets just came and said, "You have to leave".

The same thing happened in the Taslixhe section of the city. I watched the people flee their
homes through my window. They left all their possessions behind -- they weren't even allowed
to take their identification cards. All they had was the sadness in their eyes. Their well-known
pride seemed to have been destroyed.

Four families came into the building where my family lives. At first, they were afraid; they
didn't know if they would find Serbs or Albanians in the building. But as they met one Albanian
and then another and another, they realised they had found people who would help them.

My mother gave them some water to help calm them down, and then some tea and coffee. They
were embarrassed to ask if they could sleep at our house. There are now four families living in
our small apartment.

All night long, they stood at the window, looking back at their homes, expecting to see flames.
But their homes weren't set on fire. In fact, it was a rather quiet night: just one early morning
NATO air attack and a few explosions. Of course, there was the regular sound of gunfire in the
streets. No one pays attention to that any more.

In the morning, the families tried to return to their homes but were prevented by the police. I
learned Tuesday that my friend and colleague, Baton Haxhiu, editor of the Albanian language
daily Koha Ditore, has been killed. He was an excellent journalist, which is probably why he
was killed. What hurts the most is that I had told his family he was in a safe place and that they
shouldn't worry. Now I feel such guilt. Thank God his parents' telephone isn't working so l
cannot reach them. I hope it was a quick death -- a single bullet to the head. I hope he wasn't
beaten; that horrifies me.

No one expected it would be this bad. Even though we knew there would be retaliations once
the war began, we thought it would mostly happen in the remote villages. No one dreamed
Pristina would be like this. The television shows pictures of the refugees that have left. At least
they have survived and might return some day. But what about us, the ones that remain? Pristina
has become a camp.

Some 300 vehicles filled with people left Pristina Tuesday morning. They organised themselves
and decided to escape, heading south for Macedonia. Who knows if they will make it there
safely? But they were desperate to leave and get as far away as possible from the situation here.
Those of us who remain feel there is a price to be paid for Kosovo. The only question is who
will make it through to the end. Those who stay don't want to help "them" fulfill their desire to
empty Kosovo of Albanians.

The situation was bad yesterday. Today it is even worse. What will it be tomorrow?

The author's name has been withheld in case of possible reprisal.

                   © Institute of War & Peace Reporting