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Tuesday, June 22, 1999 Published at 16:39 GMT 17:39 UK

Eyewitness: Mass graves and more

A returning Kosovo Albanian passes a burnt out Serb house

Ian Pannell, reporter with BBC Radio 4's World at One programme, has just returned from the region. He was among the first journalists to report from inside free Kosovo. These are his impressions.

In the fresh early-morning of 12 June after nearly four months of a campaign predicted to last just days, British forces crossed in to Kosovo.

Listen to Ian Pannell's report from Pristina
The following day, flak jackets, satellite dishes and microphones in tow, we tentatively edged towards the border to see for the first time what Yugoslavia had done for Kosovo.

Quiet and desolate, the buckled and burnt down houses, some still smouldering, provided the first proof that the tales of destruction were all too accurate. There were quiet moments, too quiet moments, with no troops around and only the distant sound of gunfire cracking the gentle burble of summertime.

Pristina foreboding

For the first couple of days Pristina was far from the liberated city celebrated in over enthusiastic headlines. It was a tense place with a brooding sense of foreboding.

Kosovo: Special Report
We sneaked into our flat to avoid detection. At night the lights stayed off and like moths we gathered to work round candlelight. Yet despite the lack of running water Pristina was relatively unscathed by the war. The road to Prizren in the south-west was not.

The area bore witness to the full ferocity of the Serb onslaught.

Mass graves and more

In the vivid bloom of summer Kosovo whispered a dark secret of violation; whole villages were blackened, tarmac pock-marked by artillery, abandoned and burnt vehicles strewn along the roadside.

The sickening stench of rotting flesh assaults the senses as the terrible truth dawns.

[ image: British troops, and the media with them, have come across mass graves]
British troops, and the media with them, have come across mass graves
Yes, there are mass graves; yes, people have been raped and tortured; yes, bodies have been butchered and burnt and yes, property has been ransacked and areas laid to waste. Inevitably reporters with headlines and deadlines are driven to find ever worse scenes to satisfy a war weary audience. Yet what matters is that these things happened at all.

Reconstructing lives

Prizren itself was a town heady with the euphoria of liberation. Soldiers of the Kosovo Liberation Army hugged comrades and brothers in arms sang heartily of their struggle.

My translator Kani vowed he would shortly move to Kosovo to be with his liberated people. What struck me most about the town was not the Kalshnikov's, the incessant car-horns nor the cheering crowds but the murmur of people just out and about.

The war in Kosovo
There were no restaurants or bars to go to, no shops to visit but still, in their thousands, people went out, because they could.

No doubt the celebrations will continue to echo across Kosovo as the Serb forces complete their withdrawal but already people are starting to reconstruct their lives.

Men are shaved in barber shops with broken windows. Tomatoes and pale green chillies are stacked into wooden trays by the roadside and long queues of people smile as they tuck warm browned loaves of bread under their arms.

Cycle of destruction

Yet in the Balkans it seems happiness for some must mean sorrow for others. Despite the best laid plans of K-For and the UN, thousands of Serbs began to flee in scenes reminiscent of the Albanian exodus months earlier.

[ image: A young girl gives a salute to the cameras as Kosovo Albanians rebuild their lives under the watchful gaze of K-For]
A young girl gives a salute to the cameras as Kosovo Albanians rebuild their lives under the watchful gaze of K-For
As the cycle of destruction continues turning so new seeds of discontent have been sown.

I visited the small village of Nikadin where Serbs and Albanians live side by side. The Serbs there told me how they live peacefully with their Albanian neighbours.

Avdi Berisha was beckoned over to prove the point and he agreed. As we packed to leave Avdi invited us back to his house. On the short journey our translator explained the Serbs had used the word "Shiptar" to describe their Albanian neighbours - it's a racist word like 'Paki' or 'Yid'.

I asked Avdi about the future. He didn't seem to understand that neither the Ahtisaari deal nor the Military Technical Agreement offered what he was celebrating most, a referendum on independence.

As we headed back to Macedonia my translator turned to me and said, "You know, I never thought about what would happens after K-For goes."

If Bosnia is anything to go by that is likely to be some time off but go they must.

Having failed to resolve the cause of the war, the implicit threat is that the events of the last four months become just another tragic chapter in the pitiful and all too bloody history of the Balkans.

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