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Thursday, April 8, 1999 Published at 20:43 GMT 21:43 UK

World: Europe

Pristina - a deserted city

Journalists encountered scenes of destruction in Pristina

On Wednesday, the BBC's World Editor John Simpson was one of a few journalists to be taken by Serbian authorities to the bombed Kosovan capital Pristina.

Kosovo: Special Report
We reached Pristina shortly before sunset, a couple of hours before the night's attacks usually begin.

It was not so much tense as completely empty. We came in through what used to be the ethnic Albanian quarter. The houses were shuttered, the shops empty, their windows either smashed in or broken by explosions.

A big oil depot, which supplied the city's heating system, was still burning fiercely on the hillside, 12 hours after it had been hit. The smoke from it hung over the city.

I was able to walk around freely. There were times when the only sounds were the crows cawing in the trees.

John Simpson: The living get out and even the dead can't lie in peace
It was all very eerie - so quiet, nobody around except men in uniform. The stench of burning rubber and burning oil was on the air. Broken glass was everywhere all over the streets.

Occasionally down side alleys you could see a few people, Albanians or Serbs or Gypsies hurrying home with a little food for the night.

The Head of the Regional Government, Vejko Odalovic, insisted that most people were still at home and that included ethnic Albanians, he said.

[ image: The city streets are deserted say journalists]
The city streets are deserted say journalists
"There are Albanians in Pristina. As for the make-up of the population here, it hasn't changed much since the bombing started.

"As you have seen, around us the bombs have caused some displacement of the population. People of all nationalities are leaving, the bombs don't target one specific nationality and so people of all nationalities have been leaving Pristina."

The worst damage was in the city centre. A telecommunications building had taken a direct hit, and round about it other large modern buildings had been badly damaged - a bank, a social security office, and a public library.

Locals' anger

But in human terms the worst damage was in a little side street of old houses at the back of the modern development.

The loss of life had been heavy there. Perhaps the worst in the Nato attacks so far.

John Simpson: "I saw two children playing on a bombed out site."
It proved impossible to get an agreed figure for the deaths in the heaps of still smouldering rubble. One official said 10, another suggested 20.

Many of the local people, Serbs for the most part, were too angry to do anything except shout at us.

One man explained what his life had now become: "It's not easy, we go down to the shelters every night when they bomb us."

The only people I saw a lot of as the evening drew on were the special police from the Ministry of the Interior. They patrol the streets in their camouflage uniforms or man the roadblocks all round the city.

Graves disturbed

They are increasingly the targets for the Nato attacks and they know it.

As it got on for seven o'clock the officials with us wanted to get on the road away from Pristina. We had been told we would be taken to the hospital to see casualties from the attacks, but instead we were driven briefly to the city's cemetery.

This had taken a stray hit of some kind. Graves were disturbed or destroyed.

The city was an empty shell where the living get out or stay in hiding, and even the dead don't lie in peace.

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