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Tuesday, May 25, 1999 Published at 13:57 GMT 14:57 UK

Quiz our correspondent in Kosovo

The BBC's Jacky Rowland is in the Kosovo capital, Pristina. Hundreds of users from around the world e-mailed their questions in, and Jacky kindly took time out of her hectic schedule to answer some of them.

Jacky Rowland was invited back to Kosovo by the Yugoslav Army, last week. She had been forced to leave shortly after the Nato airstrikes began.

Kosovo: Special Report
She is one of only a handful of journalists reporting from the Kosovo capital, Pristina. Having reported from the province extensively in the past, she is ideally placed to monitor the effects of the conflict.

Jacky Rowland became the BBC's Sarajevo reporter in January last year and moved to Belgrade in December.

See below for a transcription of Jacky's replies to the questions you sent in.

Robin Sam, India: How does it feel to be a woman journalist in the thick of war reporting? Back home in India, women still haven't passed on to the realm of war reporting.

Jacky Rowland: "Kosovo is beautiful ... but some people will have to start from scratch and many will never return."
Jacky Rowland: I feel quite isolated in many ways because there aren't many women here. The only women based here on a permanent or semi-permanent basis are myself and a female Turkish journalist. All of the others are men, even though there aren't many of us. I wouldn't say it affects that much the way we report but it does from time to time give us certain advantages, for example at checkpoints. When you're seen by the military who have been living in an all-male environment for weeks and weeks on end, being a female is something of a novelty. So there's lots of smiling and joking and things like that.

If anything I think it can make things slightly easier for us although we can't expect any special treatment. And on a couple of occasions during this conflict when I had in fact been detained temporarily by the security forces, I have been hit by Serbian police. So it just shows that as a woman you're not immune from a bit of rough treatment every now and again. This certainly hasn't happened since I've been in Kosovo, it happened once in Montenegro and once in Belgrade. But here I haven't had any problems with personal safety.

It can be pretty scary when you're out investigating a recent bomb site when you can still see the Nato planes overhead. You're aware of the fact that you're within metres of a target that has been hit and could be hit again. In fact on Friday this actually happened. We were an hour inspecting a prison in north-west Kosovo and within moments of our departure from the prison, the bombs started dropping again. I was aware that had we stayed five minutes longer, we would have been there when the prison was bombed. And again on Monday we had bombers flying above us when we were stuck on a mountain road that we couldn't get through and again we were aware that we were a sitting target. From the air we looked like a convoy. But this has nothing to do with Serb security forces but is a danger that everyone in Kosovo shares.

Jim Morris, England: What conditions are you living in Kosovo? How safe is it in Pristina, both in terms of personal safety and that of the equipment?

Jacky Rowland: It's not quite as bad as I feared it might be. On a practical basis, we generally have running water, we generally have electricity although sometimes it's knocked out along with that in the rest of Serbia. As for security, all the foreign journalists have to live in one hotel which on the one hand guarantees our security, but on the other hand the authorities know exactly where to find us if they want to.

Out and about on the streets it's generally advisable not to talk loudly in English because you rather draw attention to yourself. Ordinary Serbs do tend to focus in on you as a representative of Nato and therefore a representative of the aggression against their country. And I often have young Serbs who get into animated conversations - often through an interpreter - asking why Britain is doing this as old allies of Serbia, why they are being attacked now, what is the British Government thinking of?

In most cases you have to explain to them you're here as independent witness of what is going on and not as a representative of the British Government or Nato. I have to say that for the most part people have treated me decently on a personal basis. Once it's got beyond the politics, they're generally fairly friendly. That's been the majority of my experience, but obviously we have come across aggressive and angry people from time to time. But that's inevitable bearing in mind the nightly and daily bombardments that much of Kosovo was under.

Greg Rowan, USA: Jacky, I have listened to you for several years now. I admire your personal courage, since you always seem to be reporting from dreadful war zones. Do you encounter any hostility in Kosovo, being such a well-known journalist from a Nato country?

Jacky Rowland: Because I'm here, and there are not many Western journalists here, people in this town almost regard us as their personal local broadcasters. We broadcast to a worldwide audience and they can get access to us in the local coffee shop. For example I had a member of the Turkish minority in the coffee shop the other day to say "Your first report when you said Pristina looked like a ghost-town wasn't true. Pristina isn't a ghost town." I had to tell him that was my first impression when I arrived in the late afternoon and the streets were deserted. But he really wanted to take me to task over this. And in a way it's quite nice because it makes you accountable to your listeners.

The people who are most interested in what you're saying can actually meet you in the coffee shop and discuss things with you. So I must say I haven't found too much aggression as a representative of a Western nation, not even from the security forces. I think a lot of that has got to do with being discreet, not drawing too much attention to yourself and being willing to listen to what people say, to their complaints - and be able to discuss with them on a calm and rational basis rather than getting whipped up into any kind of anger or excitement they might be expressing.

Nigel Rupert Westham, Zimbabwe: How are the local Serbs reacting to the Albanians that are still in the city? Is there hostility or what?

Jacky Rowland: There is probably an undercurrent of tension. People are really still feeling their way. After that initial explosion of anger which happened relatively recently, both communities are still suspicious of the other. Having said that, I've spoken to some Kosovo Albanians who say that they feel fairly safe and that they intend to stay. I've spoken to some Serbs who say "Well, the Albanians can stay as long as they are willing to respect the laws of the land."

So there is this rather uneasy cohabitation here. And there are stories of police rounding up for questioning young Albanian men in several districts of Pristina but in most cases we hear that they are released again. So I would describe the atmosphere as somewhat uneasy at the moment.

Malcolm McCandless, Scotland: What is considered normal life by the people who are left in Pristina?

Jacky Rowland: Pristina has changed an awful lot. It was quite a cosmopolitan city with Serbs, Albanians and Turks - quite a lot of international workers. It's completely changed now. A lot of the shops were looted in the early days of the bombing when a lot of Serbs let out their anger against Nato and the easiest targets were local ethnic Albanian businesses, restaurants, which were burned to the ground. So there's not a lot to do in Pristina.

There are a couple of cafes that are open. But they close very early - by about 3.00pm. Shops close early too and people generally go home before nightfall and they don't budge after dark. And once night falls, you see a lot of police and security forces out on the streets. So for people it's a case of really getting by day by day. It's pretty grim and people feel it's a tunnel and they can't see a light at the end of it, to use a cliché.

Brad Smith, USA: I understand that early in the bombings, Milosevic was actually gaining support from his people due to their (I think justified) fear and anger directed towards Nato. Have you seen any signs of this changing? Are people beginning to insist that Milosevic bend just so the bombings will stop? Do you believe that this will ever happen or will resentment towards Nato just continue to build among the population?

Jacky Rowland: I would say the main focus of people's anger is targeted against Nato. There's a lot of talk of people being united against President Milosevic. I think it's more accurate to say they're untied against Nato. People in public now find it very difficult to express any kind of criticism or opposition to President Milosevic because that would be seen as tantamount to treachery. In one case, someone was imprisoned for publicly voicing opposition to President Milosevic.

But in private, you'll find people are very, very critical of President Milosevic but they are probably still more critical of Nato. That said, people are anxious, if not desperate for an end to this conflict. It's into its third month now and clearly they want to see any opportunity for compromise although many people here feel that it's actually Nato that is less willing to compromise even than the Yugoslav authorities.

Louis Schmittroth, Canada: What can you say about the desertion stories coming out of Kosovo and Serbia?

Jacky Rowland: We haven't heard anything, but then I wouldn't expect us to, and obviously this is the kind of thing that is going on and the kind of thing the Yugoslav authorities are going to try and keep quiet. I have asked people here about it and they have responded in a rather roundabout way. They have said that certainly no Kosovo Serbs are deserting, which doesn't answer the question about other Serbs from other parts of Serbia deserting, but having seen the Yugoslav army as I move around the province, it doesn't look like an army on the run.

There are still a lot of forces here, they are moving around. I have seen equipment moving around. I've seen heavy equipment moving around, I saw a couple of multiple rocket launchers moving around yesterday and indeed troops being moved around in what looked like commercial trucks and buses, which are now being used for moving troops around. The people we meet at check points seem to be relaxed and self-assured. I wouldn't say really that it looks like an army which is suffering from desertion on a large scale.

Vivek Pandey, UK: What hope do you see for the province of Kosovo in the short term and in the long term?

Jacky Rowland: If you look at Kosovo purely from the countryside point of view, parts of it are extremely beautiful, and you do have some historic buildings and some historic town centres. You can see why the different communities in Kosovo feel so attached to this land. If you actually look now at buildings and infrastructure, there really has been widescale devastation, partly, as I said before by the looting and burning of private homes that followed the fleeing of refugees, and also of course the damage brought by Nato against industrial sights, against bridges, against roads. People are saying to me here, who is going to fix all this, who is going to pay to repair all of this, how long is it going to take? The countryside really is devastated, they will really need to start from scratch in many cases.

I would say that the future of the province doesn't look very hopeful at all. I imagine that there are many tens of thousands of refugees who won't come back at all. They will resettle maybe in Albania, maybe they'll emigrate to the United States, Canada, Australia, those countries that took quite a few refugees from the Bosnian conflict. Those that do come back would need to be very confident that the same thing wouldn't happen again. They would need to have confidence in the local authorities here and they would need to have some sort of prospects of earning a living. At the moment it is very difficult to see how anyone could actually earn a living bearing in mind the bad state of infrastructure and industry here.

Ivan Fitt, Brunei: Would a cessation of the air war against Yugoslavia allow a negotiation process to begin? Is the bombing actually preventing a solution to the crisis in Kosovo?

Jacky Rowland: From the Yugoslav point of view, they have said, as have the Russians, that no negotiations can begin while Nato is still bombing Yugoslavia. I think the reason that Nato is sticking to its guns and saying that they want to keep bombing until the force is withdrawn, is that from experience Nato has seen that the Yugoslav authorities might sign up to something on paper, but that doesn't necessarily translate into action on the ground. If you just look back six months when Richard Holbrook signed an agreement on Kosovo with President Milosevic, this was meant to provide for a withdrawal of Serb forces, but the international monitors who were on the ground in Kosovo didn't see that, and in fact some have reported quite the contrary and an increase in forces.

I think the problem at the moment is that there is so much lack of trust on both sides. The Yugoslavs don't believe that Nato is willing to enter into some kind of negotiated settlement. Nato for its part doesn't believe that the Yugoslav army will keep its word if it agrees to do some kind of troop withdrawal. Nato seems to think President Milosovic only understands the language of force. So we are stuck if you like because of the mistrust between the two sides, and the two sides holding out for their principles, which makes it difficult to actually see what scope there is at the moment for any negotiated settlement, bearing in mind there is a military campaign going on here.

Jaroslav Cerny, Saudi Arabia: How extensive is the destruction of Pristina by Nato bombs?

Jacky Rowland: The damage in Pristina seems to be limited to a number of sites. In many cases they were hit during the very early days of this conflict, for example, the postal and telecommunications building has been totally destroyed and a couple of local administrative buildings were destroyed and the craftsman's quarter of the town has been destroyed. Apart from that the actual centre of Pristina has been spared although we do regularly hear bombs dropping on the airport to the west of the capital.

Stephen Braich, USA: We are told by Nato that the Albanians are leaving only because the Serbs are expelling them. The Serbian government says that they are leaving because of the Nato bombing. Can you tell what is going on the ground? Is this a black and white issue? Could it be a combination of the two, and of other factors?

Jacky Rowland: It's really a combination. On returning to Kosovo it's become quite clear to me that the future here in the province is a lot more complicated than you would imagine if you just hear the very black and white stories emerging from refugee camps in Macedonia and Albania. A lot of people have fled their homes because of Serbian police. There have been people who have been told to leave their homes by police or by other men wearing uniforms.

There are other people who have left because they're afraid or because maybe there is still activity between the rebels and the police in their village. It is a mixed picture. But there are people who are leaving as well because of the bombing and not just Albanians but also Serbs. We've seen in recent days just how indiscriminate the bombing often seems and the collateral damage that Nato causes. In real terms this means houses and civilians that have been killed or badly injured, their houses being destroyed. Obviously this is quite an incentive for many people to leave quite apart from possible harassment by the security forces.

Mike Draper, USA: Why do we hear so little about the KLA? What are they doing now?

Jacky Rowland: I think the reason we hear so little about the KLA now is that it's very difficult to get in direct contact with them. The Yugoslav Army claims that they have defeated the rebels and they have completed their operations against them. I don't think that's entirely true. It's clear that the KLA is still operating although at a very reduced capacity and they don't have their Kosovo-wide control and command set up anymore. They're operating in small cells of maybe 10 or 15 people in limited areas of the territory and in the central Drenica region and also to the south west down towards the Albanian border. But they are no longer the organised force they used to be and clearly they are operating on the basis of guerrilla tactics - sniping, ambushes and that sort of thing.

Hermann Engelhardt: How many Kosovars still live in Pristina as compared to pre-war population?

Jacky Rowland: I can't give you exact figures with regards to the Kosovo Albanian population in Pristina. I can say that in the city since the start of the conflict as a whole about 40 per cent of the residents of Pristina have left and a substantial number of those are Albanians and also Serbs and members of the Turkish minority have also left and are still leaving on a daily basis.

Every day there are several buses that leave from Pristina down towards the border with Macedonia. The people who are getting those buses at the moment are saying that they are leaving now because they are afraid of what might happen as and when Nato ground forces come into Kosovo. They are very afraid of possible retribution against them by the Serbs in Pristina. But at the same time there are some people who are staying and there are Kosovo Albanians who have come into Pristina having fled neighbouring villages and at least as a temporary basis have settled here the regional capital.

Martin Boutell, USA: Can you describe your journalistic freedom while in Kosovo? What have Yugoslav authorities been most and least eager to give you access to?

Jacky Rowland: They're very sensitive about military sites or any areas they think are sensitive from a military point of view. For example, when we were driving up through the central Drenica region a few days ago we were all stopped before the drive began and told that from now on no stopping, no taking pictures. This is an area still where the KLA are active in certain pockets. There are a lot of security forces there and clearly the Yugoslav authorities will be concerned about any pictures or information getting out that could help Nato with its targeting.

So that's one thing and obviously as well, the Yugoslav authorities wouldn't want to draw attention to any scenes that could be seen as evidence for ethnic cleansing. There have of course been a lot of rumours from the refugees about mass graves. In particular they talk a lot about a place called Isbitsa and whether it's supposed to be a mass grave. The Yugoslav authorities say it's actually a potato field. But we haven't been able to go there and see for ourselves. Very much the kind of stories we are encouraged and facilitated in covering are stories about Nato bomb damage against civilian targets.

Parklyn K. Teda, Haiti: The media has detailed extensive burning of Kosovar Albanian homes and villages. What do you see from inside Kosovo? Is there anything left for the refugees to return to?

Jacky Rowland: It goes without saying that we're not taken on guided tours through ethnically cleansed villages. But driving through the countryside you do get to see some of the devastation that has been brought in recent weeks. Driving down into Kosovo and through the northern region of Podujevo you see a lot of burned houses, a lot of looted houses.

It's a similar picture in the central Drenica region. I've spent quite a lot of time driving through there in recent days and you see houses with no roofs, completely blackened by smoke, their windows smashed in many cases, pro-Serb graffiti daubed on the walls. And these little villages that I used to be quite familiar with earlier in the year that is normally a very agricultural kind of place, peasant-based if you like, you used to see lots of people wandering around the streets. Now it's pretty much deserted. The only people you do see in this area are security forces.

Mark Pressey, USA: We hear reports of tens or hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanians taking refuge in the mountains of Kosovo, yet we also hear of large villages existing without conflict with surrounding Serb forces - have you been able to determine the existence of large numbers of refugees living in the open, and whether the "ethnic cleansing" is being done only by isolated groups of Serb Military and/or Paramilitary forces?

Jacky Rowland: I haven't personally seen much in the way of people living within Kosovo. Certainly there are those who have managed to stay in the province. It's a very mixed picture. While there are some people who are leaving, being chased out in many cases, there are others who, having initially been chased out of their homes, have been walking around part of Kosovo for several weeks and have in fact found a place where they have been able to come to rest and settle temporarily without harassment from the security forces.

That's certainly the case with a couple of villages in the northern Podujevo region where you see refugees, displaced people, who have stopped there and seem to be OK at least for the time-being. But again some are living in houses, some have more makeshift shelters. But we don't have that much freedom to wander around and discover refugees who may be living in the open. I'm not saying there aren't any but we haven't been able to see any.

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