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1999: 'High hopes' the day bombing began
NATO ordered the bombing of Yugoslavia after peace talks collapsed. The campaign lasted 11 weeks and cost thousands of lives.

Interpreter Ylber Burgija, who was living in Kosovo at the time of the conflict, initially welcomed the Nato bombers because, he thought, they would finally drive the Serbian forces out of his homeland.

But his hope soon turned to fear as he and his family were forced to leave their home and all their belongings and flee across the border to Macedonia.

He sent his story to On This Day.

I was watching the BBC World News on satellite when the announcement was made that the first missiles were being launched from Nato ships in the Adriatic.

I felt both delight and fear. I was happy because finally the killers of Kosovo were about to deal with a real force. Steadfast, honourable and just, Nato was not comprised of poor, innocent women and children from the countryside, which the Serbs were used to fighting and killing. This time they would fight the mightiest military organization in the world.

I felt fear because the Serbs, military and civilian alike, would take their anger at the bombing out on the only people they could, us, the Albanians of Kosovo. And they did.

As soon as the report aired on the BBC we heard sirens. Then the power went out. We were terrified. Afterwards I started hearing the loud bangs. The earth shook and the buildings trembled. It was both terrifying and magnificent.

This became a daily routine for the next few days. We didn't go out at all. All of the Albanian neighbors would stay in one apartment. Shortly after we started running out of food. Water was scarce too.

Then, after enduring days of anguish, the dreaded day came. A unit of the now famous, or should I say infamous, unit of the "Scorpions" stationed themselves smack in front of our building in a truck not unlike the one that was seen in the newly released video of the executions in Bosnia.

Looking back shivers run down my spine, to think who we were dealing with.

All night long they walked around the building, shouting, shooting in the air, singing nationalistic Serb songs about "Great Serbia". They would walk around in the hallways of the apartment building dragging the barrels of their machine guns along the rail of the buiiding. It was horrific.

I had decided we were going to die and I had to prepare myself mentally to get executed. If we were lucky, I thought, they will machine gun us down. I was really scared of being killed with a knife, or worse, like they did in Bosnia, with a hammer. Bullets were an easy and quick way to die, I thought.

The next morning they came to our door. My poor mother greeted them trembling, with all of our family's life savings in her hands.

They didn't notice what she had in her hands. They were too busy laughing and enjoying what they were doing. They told my father we had five minutes to meet them downstairs. He asked them what we should bring along and they said, not much of anything, where you are going, they said, you won't need anything at all.

They left and we closed the door behind them. We all hugged and cried. Since we were sleeping clothed we didn't need to get dressed, so in keeping with the amount of time they gave us we went downstairs to meet them.

After a bit of playing around they said we had to leave Kosovo for good or they would kill us. Leave Kosovo, I thought, how quickly can we get to a border.

It's funny when you are stripped of all your dignity and completely terrorized to the point that being forced out of your homeland seems like a luxury. A treat if you will. No bullets, no knives.

It sounded great to me. Where were my human rights at that time? Not there I can guarantee.

We went to get in our car and they told us to walk. They said they would be keeping the car for themselves. My father said that it is too long to the border, we would never make it.

Shortly after, they talked amongst themselves and agreed to "sell our car to us" because they were so courteous. We gave them around 1,000 in German currency and we left.

We would spend another three days at the Kosovo-Macedonian border with no food and water. Women, children, the sick and the elderly, being denied entrance by the Macedonians.

They joked, as we suffered, with the Serb police that they should just send us through the minefields below. This way, a Macedonian Border Guard told his Serbian counterpart, we kill two birds with one stone, we don't have to accept them, and you don't have to take them back. It is the "Perfect Solution" as he called it. Rings a bell to another "Solution" of 50 years ago?

Looking back at the day NATO entered Kosovo, my hopes were high. But Kosovo now sits where it was six years ago, and hope has dwindled.

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Albanian refugees and lorries leaving Kosovo
Thousands of ethnic Albanians were forced to leave their homes


Band brakethru
Ylber (far R) and his brother (far L) are now part of a band in the United States
In Context
Ylber Burgija and his brother Ylli were granted refugee status and moved to the United States in June 1999.

Ylber is now working as a consultant for a telecommunications company but his first love is music.

On landing at La Guardia airport in New York, the brothers bumped into the guitarist and songwriter Carlos Santana. They told him their story and he convinced them to believe in their musical talents.

They now have their own band and many of their songs focus on social justice issues, stemming from their time in Kosovo.

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