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Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 March, 2004, 15:43 GMT
Kosovo residents still on edge
By Tamsin Smith
BBC, Kosovo

There is an uneasy calm here in Kosovo after the troubles of recent days which left 31 dead and more than 500 wounded.

An elderly Serb man waits to be escorted back to his village from a peacekeepers base
Peacekeepers say it is too early for Serbs to return home
Driving from the airport to the capital Pristina, you see reminders of the biggest outbreak of violence here since the war ended five years ago.

In between pizzerias and petrol stations are blackened remains of houses and churches.

There are virtually no Serbs left now in Pristina.

The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, estimates that 3,600 have fled their homes in the past week.

Many were headed for the security of larger settlements, and about a third are sheltering under the protection of Kosovo's Nato-led peacekeeping force, K-For, in a compound outside the town of Mitrovica.

Guarding the compound are French K-For troops. They won't let journalists in, as they say the Serbs they are looking after are still too distressed.

Too early

"We are doing all we can to protect the people," says lieutenant Matthieu Mabin, spokesman for Nato forces in the north of Kosovo.

"They can't return home yet, it is still too early.

We don't sleep very well here at night. No-one knows if all this is over
Anonymous Serb villager
"We have to resolve this crisis first - it began only days ago and I'm afraid it is not finished for the moment."

There was heavy security earlier this week at the funerals for two Albanian children in the village of Cabra near Mitrovica.

Reports of the boys' deaths, allegedly after being chased into a river by Serb men, initially sparked the violent clashes.

Helicopters circled over the valley during the service and K-For soldiers controlled road blocks.

Although thousands of people flocked to the funerals there was no trouble and no desire to see more violence.

"We don't want more violence or blood," the 16-year-old friend of one of the dead children said.

A Kosovo Albanian suspect is gagged and detained by Norwegian peacekeepers early on Tuesday, 23 March
It will take a long time to establish who was responsible, the UN says
"We need peace here now."

At the river Ibar, where the two children drowned along with a friend, the water levels are higher than usual.

They have been artificially raised since the recent violence to provide greater separation between Cabra and the neighbouring Serb village of Subca on the opposite side of the valley.

Danish military police protecting the entrance to Subca say that Serbs here are taking security into their own hands.

"We have found weapons in gardens and houses," Captain Nielson says.

"It is not a secret round here that people are trying to protect themselves any way they can."

Setback

"We don't have much confidence in security here," says one villager, sitting in a small farmyard.

"We don't sleep very well here at night. No-one knows if all this is over and I think Serbia should help us out."

But Kosovo's provisional authorities are shouting louder for independence to help solve the problems.

The international community here warns that the reconciliation process has suffered a major setback.

Nothing has changed for us since the war ended and we've got nothing to lose
Anonymous Albanian man
"We need to assess the damage that has been done to relationships between the communities" senior UN advisor Jolyon Naegele says.

"It is going to take days, even weeks to discuss what has happened and who is responsible."

But on both sides, amongst Kosovo's ethnic Albanians and Serbs, there is a growing feeling of resentment that nothing has changed since the conflict.

Unemployment in Kosovo is 60%, the flood of international donations has dried up to a trickle and there is no foreign investment to generate jobs.

Dangerous combination

Whilst the economic crisis did not spark the recent troubles, many people think it inflamed existing tensions and could do so again.

"Other things caused the recent violence but the economic situation here really doesn't help," says Sidi Boubacar, head of the World Bank in Kosovo.

"It is clear to me that this combination of a very young population and very high unemployment rate is a dangerous combination which has influenced this outbreak of violence."

In front of the K-For checkpoint at the bridge before Mitrovica, where last weeks violence began, there is now calm amid tight security.

But on the streets here there are gangs of young Albanian men sitting on kerbsides with nothing to do.

"We have no jobs, no money, guys just hang around here waiting for trouble," one of them says.

"Nothing has changed for us since the war ended and we've got nothing to lose."


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