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Friday, April 30, 1999 Published at 10:05 GMT 11:05 UK


Braving it in Belgrade

David Atherton, an English teacher in Belgrade, says people are very positive towards him

As Nato's bombing of Yugoslavia enters its sixth week, life becomes increasingly hard for those who live there.

Many British nationals are no doubt glad they left when they did, at the start of the conflict. But then there are some who chose to remain.

Kosovo: Special Report
Those who did have had to face not only the threat of bombs, but also the possibility of retribution from Serbian neighbours and friends.

English teacher Dave Atherton is one just one of a group of British ex-patriats that remains in Belgrade. He says that, although life has undoubtedly taken some adjustment, it nonetheless goes on much the same.

"The first couple of days were pretty frightening. It was a new situation for me but I've become fairly blasť about the whole thing now," he explains.

Bombs a mile away

Mr Atherton lives on the sixth floor of an apartment block in the city. From this vantage point he feels precariously close to the nightly strikes.

Dave Atherton on the line from Belgrade
The building rocks, windows rattle and the fires blaze in the distance. But nothing has yet come within a mile of his block.

"We can see out across the city and we watch and hear the bombing. We've heard about 170 explosions and there have been about 20 explosions quite near," he says.

Mr Atherton went to Belgrade at the end of September to teach English in a private language school. The school closed down at Easter because of the war.

But he decided to stay, along with a colleague, for what he calls "various reasons", not least of all because he has a Serbian girlfriend.

[ image: Belgrade has been heavily bombed - with specific buildings targetted]
Belgrade has been heavily bombed - with specific buildings targetted
Each night is spent hauled up in the apartment with his friends, "keeping each other from going insane".

They watch the news of the conflict on the government-regulated TV channels, waiting for it to start up again around them at about 2am.

Despite this routine of danger, the daytime is strangely calm, as they go about the business of the day.

'People are fantastic'

Perhaps more surprising still is that, inspite of their British status, Mr Atherton says he and and his colleague do not feel under threat.

"Everything has been absolutely fine so far even though I stand out quite easily as an English person, not speaking a great deal of Serbian, " he says.

Brits in Balkans
"Even when we go out to go to restaurants people are absolutely fantastic. They welcome us with open arms, make constant allusions to our being brave and see the fact that we have stayed as a sign of solidarity."

At present, Mr Atherton has no plans to return home to Britain. He and his colleague have secured themselves temporary teaching work.

His girlfriend's family are very supportive and, on the face of it, life for him in Belgrade is relatively good.

Besides, he says, from where he is in the thick of it, the conflict over Kosovo is not clear cut.

"The pictures on Serbian TV are obviously very biased. But I have occasional access to the Internet and, in my opinion, the picture from the rest the world is slightly array too, especially on the American side. The situation is not as black and white as it is painted," he says.

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