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EDITIONS
Friday, 24 May, 2002, 08:12 GMT 09:12 UK
The heart and soul of Kosovo
Bob Wylie and the Kosovan children
Bob Wylie is reunited with Liridona Halili and her brother

It is only about 30 miles from Pristina, Kosovo's capital, to the village of Murgulla, up north near the border with Serbia.

But it takes more than two hours to get there.

You turn left in the middle of Podujevo - 10 miles outside Pristina - and for the next 20 miles it's almost dirt track all the way, lurching from one pothole to another.

Liridona Halili, 10, lives in Murgulla and the more the gears grind the more you think that it is some sort of miracle that this time last year she left Glasgow after having life saving surgery for 19 holes in the heart.

How could she have been found way out here?

Those of religious persuasion say it was a gift from God.

Reverend Neil Galbraith is one.

Rev Neil Galbraith
Rev Neil Galbraith: "Del Boy of the cloth"
He heads the Glasgow the Caring City charity.

In January last year he was approached by the British Army to see if he could do something about getting Liridona the operation.

Neil Galbraith's a kind of Del Boy of the cloth. He gets things done.

When Yorkhill refused the invitation he phoned the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi.

Just like that.

"I'm Neil Galbraith from Glasgow the Caring City charity and I need some help from the Crown Prince," he said.

The phone call was returned hours later, and the surgery took place at the Arab-owned HCI International Hospital in Clydebank.

Highs and lows

That was more than a year ago.

Today Rev Galbraith is a little edgy about going to see Liridona for the first time since she left Glasgow.

He says she's had highs and lows since going home.

But as the jeep crawls into the courtyard, out she runs, with a smile wider than the Clyde, and it's hugs and kisses all round.

Hatem Halili, her father, says he will never forget Glasgow, but in an interview for Radio Scotland he doesn't miss his chance.

"You can see I'm poor and I don't have a full time job so paying 40 Euros a month for Liridona's medicines is a big problem," he says.


I'm Neil Galbraith from Glasgow the Caring City charity and I need some help from the Crown Prince

Muhammad Shaheen is on the Glasgow Caring City delegation to see Liridona.

He is the president of the Islamic Council in Scotland.

He says something will be done.

Later, Liridona gets her school books out.

Through the translator she says that when she came back from Glasgow she had to play catch up with her lessons.

"But now," she says as she flicks through her Albanian jotter, "I'm getting A marks all the time. I'm quite clever I think".

As we say our goodbyes it strikes me that journalism is a trade that's pretty much short on joy but Murgulla's been a corner of joy for me.

Armed camp

Joy is in serious short supply in the rest of Kosovo.

The war ended almost three years ago in June 1999.

Since then the UN has been running Kosovo.

There were successful elections to a Kosovo Assembly recently but it is still the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) which runs the province - including some 6,000 UNMIK police trying to keep law and order.

There are also 40,000 troops under Nato's K-Force banner (K-FOR).

The British contingent is 3,000.

That's a lot of money for a lot of police and soldiers.

The place is an armed camp.

Nato K-force troops
Nato troops still have a heavy presence

The good news is that ethnic clashes between the Albanians and the rest are now much reduced.

The bad news is that for all the efforts of the UN and KFOR, the international mission here is still like two men trapped in a boat surrounded by crocodiles - right now they can shoot the crocodiles nearest the boat but draining the swamp is out of the question.

Swamp isn't a misplaced metaphor.

The military journal - Jane's Intelligence Review - recently estimated that most of the heroin that finds its way to Western Europe is handled by one of the 15 family-based Albanian gangs which control crime in Kosovo.

It said: "Discussing Albanian politics without considering narcotics trafficking is like discussing Saudi politics without considering oil."

So much for drug trafficking.

Downtown Pristina there is evidence of women trafficking - a business making Kosovo the sex for sale capital of Europe.

Commitment to service

In many of Pristina's coffee shops and bars you don't wait long to order - that's because even in small bars there can be five or six waitresses on duty.

That's not Kosovan commitment to service.

It's a sign that if you offer a 50 Euro note for the cappuccino you can have sex with the waitress in a room upstairs before the froth on the coffee has gone.

Derek Chappell is a Canadian police officer who has been working in Kosovo for the past two years.

In one raid 12 women were working in the bar, living in a barracks above it.

They were all from the poorer parts of Eastern Europe.

All were prostitutes.

Most had been press-ganged. They are offered a job in Italy, but when they reach Serbia all of the promises are broken - their passports are taken by their masters and they are sold as slaves in Kosovo to work as prostitutes.

Downtown Pristina
Downtown Pristina

About $1000 is the asking price for a good looking girl.

The UN Agency has rescued some 300 women from this misery in the last two years - more than half from the former Soviet Republic of Moldova.

But for some, prostitution represents a conscious choice. Romeo Dragnea is a Romanian policeman working for UNMIK.

He says he met a girl in a bar raid who came from Moldova and whose mother is a doctor in the capital, Chisinau.

The family income is $30 a month so the $200 a month she sends home is saving her brothers and sisters.

Her mother thinks she's a waitress.

Derek Chappell and Romeo Dragnea reject the accusations that the huge international community in Kosovo provides a ready market for the sex trade.

Revenge of the Albanians

"It'd be stupid not to recognise that some internationals are involved but our experience is that it's Kosovar Albanians and Serbs who are the main customers," says Chappell.

Kursumlija is a small market town in Serbia just over the border from Kosovo.

It used to have about 15,000 people but that number is up by 8,000.

In 1999, Kursumlija was the first stopping point for Serbs fleeing the revenge of the Albanians in Kosovo after the war ended.

More than 200,000 Serbs left and haven't gone back.

Caslav Bojovic is one of them. He used to be an assistant head master in a high school in Kosovo.


How can I have to pay to get my own flat back

Caslav Bojovic
Now there's an Albanian family occupying his flat there.

They want 10,000 Euros to leave.

"How can I have to pay to get my own flat back? Is this justice? We're Europe's forgotten refugees," he said.

Bojovic thinks there's little chance of a return.

His eyes fill up when I ask what the future is for his lovely 14-year-old daughter.

All is suffering

In another part of town Milunka Vukovic lives in a garage with her two teenage daughters and her seven-year-old son.

Her situation compares to what I saw years back in Soweto.

I nearly blunder into asking to use the toilet.

"You can have no idea what if was like in winter here at 20 below," she says.

She had a life in Kosovo and now all is suffering.

The pain was also etched on the faces of the old folk at Selevo camp up the road from Milunka's garage.

Large-scale return

Andrew Whitley's in charge of the UN programme to get displaced families back to their homes in Kosovo.

He says prospects of a large scale return are years away.

He might have said unrealistic but he didn't.

The target is 3,000 people for this year.

Each return, including housing provision, costs $20,000 per family.

That means if 5,000 families were to come back it would cost around $100 million.

So a multi-ethnic Kosovo? Andrew Whitely shrugs his shoulders.

He said: "There was no serious attempt to encourage return for the last few years, now we are making a serious attempt and unfortunately it's coming at a time when the potentially available pools of donor money are drying up."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Investigations correspondent Bob Wylie
"The apartheid that divides Kosovo is what defines post-war reality"
Bob Wylie reports
"Pristina is now the sex trade capital of Eastern Europe."
Bob Wylie reports
"It might be a warning of a future partition of Kosovo and all the horrors that would bring."
Bob Wylie reports
"If the Albanians were the first victims of the war, who are the victims now?"
See also:

25 Feb 01 | Scotland
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