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Sunday, March 28, 1999 Published at 23:26 GMT


Strikes divide Yugoslav expatriates

Many Serbs feel demonised by British press

By BBC Reporter Helen Callaghan

With no sign of an end to Nato attacks on Yugoslav targets and continuing Serb action against the Kosovo Albanians, expatriate communities from both sides in the UK are watching the situation with anxiety.

Kosovo: Special Report
Both are desperately trying to find out what is happening in their homeland. Although they share worries about the fate of loved ones, their views on the conflict are miles apart.

Serbs living in Britain have come to expect criticism.

Painted as bullies

Since the Nato air strikes began, they say have been portrayed as the scourge of Europe and for those whose families fought as allies in World War II, being painted as bullies feels like a stab in the back.

'Milo' Duvnjak says: "It is unfair. We are loyal citizens, we work here hard, we pay our taxes and they are using our money to kill our people."

[ image: Watching the Albanian news: A daily ritual]
Watching the Albanian news: A daily ritual
Many of the 40,000 Serbs living in Britain have a deep mistrust of the Western press - bombing campaigns are never successful if your family is where they are being carried out.

They have spent anxious moments trying to contact their relatives at home, desperate to make sure their loved ones are safe.

Branko Djakovic says he talks to his family hourly "through the Internet, on the phone, anyway possible".

"The best you can do is talk to them, there's nothing you can say to them, you can't say I'm sorry for the lies you hear about yourself

Helen Callaghan reports: "They are spending our money to kill our people"
"You can't say I'm sorry for the injustice that's being perpetrated on you. There's nothing you can say because it doesn't depend on you.

"But what you can say is I'm here, I'm with you if I can be with you and that's it."

It is this human side of the story that they feel has been left untold. They feel betrayed, not just by Nato but by the British media.

Although they feel they have been demonised by some of the press, they also follow all reports very closely to find out where the bombs have been dropped and if they are near their families.

[ image: Crystal Palace's Yugoslav footballer Sasa Curcic protests against the Nato raids]
Crystal Palace's Yugoslav footballer Sasa Curcic protests against the Nato raids
Two Serbian footballers plying their trade in England have relatives in Belgrade. Sasa Ilic, of Charlton, has taken part in protests in London while Sasa Curcic demonstrated before Crystal Palace's match on Sunday.

Serbian expatriates' painful experience is shared by the Kosovo Albanians living in Britain.

No compromise

At a cafe in London, Kosovo Albanians gather to watch the evening bulletin on Albanian television. The trip to the Blini in west London has become something of a daily routine for some of the 10,000 Kosovo Albanians in Britain.

Kastriot Qavolli lives with his brother, the rest of his family are in Kosovo.

"The last time I spoke to my parents was yesterday," he says.

[ image: Qavolli: Serbs no longer come to his shop]
Qavolli: Serbs no longer come to his shop
"I phoned them a few times, they were fine. But today when I tried to ring them, a Serbian person answered the phone ... I'm quite worried at the moment."

Neither community thinks future compromise or forgiveness is possible.

The Serbs who used to frequent Kastriot's hairdressers do not come any more.

"I don't want to be in touch with them because you think probably his brother is doing something to my parents ... So, I don't speak to them any more."

For both communities the daily routine of waiting for news and contacting relatives is the same but ask about politics and that is where the similarities end.

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