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Sunday, September 12, 1999 Published at 03:21 GMT 04:21 UK

A province still divided

K-For troops have to keep apart Albanians and Serbs in Mitrovica

By Nick Thorpe in Kosovo

The colour red, not a favourite in post-Communist eastern Europe, is everywhere in Kosovo.

The red Albanian flags, imprinted in black with the double-headed eagle, hoisted aloft among the burnt-out timbers of buildings, fluttering from the windows of cars on their way to a wedding.

Kosovo: Special Report
The red bordering of the death notices in public places - replacing the Islamic green.

And even in the red-brown earth of the fresh graves at the roadside.

In some parts of Kosovo, each ruined house has three or four new graves in the field to one side.

[ image: The Albanian flag is everywhere in Kosovo]
The Albanian flag is everywhere in Kosovo
While media reports concentrate on "mass graves", it seems fair to point out that many, perhaps most, of the 10,000 Albanians believed to have been killed, were massacred in their own homes. That word "mass" again.

An Albanian woman is reported to have said in an interview during the worst of the atrocities: "They can torture me, or even kill me, but please don_t let them massacre me."

For the Albanians of Kosovo, that threat is now past. Small children rush to the roadside to wave at foreigners, and stop you in the street to tell you their names.

And there is a new pride among those who live beyond the borders of their country too.

The Albanians are traditionally the bakers of the Balkans. A few weeks ago in Sarajevo, a man selling me my breakfast supply of Somuni - the traditional flat-breads much favoured by the Moslems - seized my arm.

"Do you know where I come from?" he asked triumphantly. "Kosovo!"

Honeymoon over

He pronounced it with all the gusto with which someone else might say "San Francisco".

For some, of course, the honeymoon is already over.

The former spokesman of the Kosovo Liberation Army in London, Seurat Plejdiu, relates how his car was stopped by British soldiers serving in K-For - the international force now patrolling the province - and how the soldier tore down the small Albanian flag dangling from his rear-view mirror, and threw it in the dirt, shouting at him that the KLA is a terrorist organisation.

Sejdiu pretended not to understand.

September the 19th is the deadline for the KLA to be fully disarmed, according to an undertaking made by the organisation_s leaders.

Just what, if anything, is allowed to survive of the organisation is a matter for extremely delicate negotiations between Kfor and KLA commanders.

[ image: The province will take time to rebuild]
The province will take time to rebuild
The most likely scenario is that some KLA fighters are incorporated into the new police service. While others will find a place in a kind of National Guard - which UN officials like to speak of as a disaster-relief organisation, and KLA commanders insist is the prototype of a new army.

A problem for all agencies trying to find work for the former guerrillas is that nearly everyone now claims to have been a KLA fighter.

In stark contrast to the Albanians, the mood among the remaining Serbs of Kosovo is dark and desperate.

Their most articulate spokesman, Father Sava, of the Decani monastery, asks quietly why the international community cannot apply the same humanitarian standards to the Serbs and Roma who have fled Kosovo now, as it used for the Albanians who fled earlier this year.

One-hundred-and-seventy-thousand Serbs left Kosovo, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Unwelcome in Serbia proper, many would return, if they felt safe to do so.

At the barricade they have erected to block access to the town of Gracanica, local Serbs are pleased to have visitors to whom they can explain their plight.

Fear and anger

Four men from Gracanica have been kidnapped by Albanians, mostly while cutting wood on the outskirts.

Each morning at nine o'clock, newspapers arrive from Yugoslavia and are distributed free.

The streets are suddenly full of people clutching Politika, Vecernji List or the sports tabloid.

No longer able to pick up Serbian television, except with a satellite dish, the people of Gracanica feel like the far outpost of a shrinking, Serbian nation. Few dare drive through the predominantly-Albanian countryside, for fear of attack.

Each town in Kosovo has its own atmosphere - a cocktail of the defeats and victories which have befallen it in the last months.

In northern Mitrovica, now predominantly Serbian, there are daily incidents between Albanians trying to come back, and Serbs determined to keep this a bastion of Serbdom.

By the wood market, a friendly young man strikes up a conversation.

I recognise him, or his ilk, from Hungary in 1986, Romania in 1987, and from Pristina in 1990. Not a secret agent as such, but one of their lap-dogs.

He tells me how fairly the Serbs have always treated the Albanians, and the poor thanks they have received.

It is a measure of the extent to which the authorities in Serbia belong to another era, that such people are still employed.

They even manage to make the truth - which is that the Serbs of Kosovo are face to face with their own extinction - sound like a lie.

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