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Monday, July 5, 1999 Published at 21:36 GMT 22:36 UK

World: Europe

Analysis: Gypsies 'caught in the middle'

K-For troops powerless to help as another Roma home burns

By BBC News Online's Fergus Nicoll

The Roma gypsies of Kosovo are afraid.

Kosovo: Special Report
After centuries as a minority occupying an uncomfortable middle-ground between two larger ethnic groups - Albanians and Serbs - the gypsies now say they are trapped between the hammer and the anvil.

"We are caught in the middle of nowhere," said one Roma refugee sheltering in a refugee camp.

"The Albanians kicked us out of our homes and they shouted to us to get off to Belgrade," he added.

"But at the frontier, the Serbs pushed us back into Kosovo."

Revenge attacks by Albanians

Estimates of the pre-conflict gypsy population range from 60,000 to more than 100,000.

[ image: A long history of persecution]
A long history of persecution
Now, they say, they are being subjected en masse to revenge attacks by ethnic Albanians who suspect them of collaborating with the Serbs in rape and murder.

Thousands have had their homes burned, and have fled their villages.

Because the Roma often live together in identifiable "ghettoes" in mainly urban areas, their enemies have found them easily.

The Romany Union, which campaigns for the welfare of gypsy minorities across Europe, has highlighted the Kosovo situation.

The Spanish-based group says the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) has sworn to eradicate the Roma population.

Indeed, the group alleges that the KLA has used torture to extract confessions of collaboration from Roma civilians.

The group says it has received the personal guarantee of the Nato Secretary-General, Javier Solana, that K-For troops would "protect the Roma ethnic minority from any attack by extremists".

History of severe persecution

Gypsies were originally a nomadic people, who migrated from the Indian sub-continent to Eastern Europe in the first century AD.

[ image: Kosovo's gypsies: 'Caught in the middle of nowhere']
Kosovo's gypsies: 'Caught in the middle of nowhere'
The Roma people are most numerous in Spain and the Balkan region - most living in settled communities - and cling to their identity and customs.

They have suffered severe persecution throughout their history, particularly in Europe.

The bitterness now felt in Kosovo stems in part from the fact that the province's Roma gypsies often have Albanian names and speak Albanian as their first language.

Widespread suspicion

News reports from Kosovo provide telling indications of the casual contempt with which both Albanians and Serbs view the Roma.

"They're just in the camp because the food is free," one Serb working for the Red Cross is quoted as saying. "They are used to living without working."

A KLA officer who said his men were actively trying to stop harrassment of gypsies was asked how many of the refugees may have collaborated with the Serbs.

"Most of them," he replied.

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