David Brauchli's
Kosovo Diary
A personal account of the Albanian
conflict, presented by

June 11, 1998 - A young refugee from Smolic in Serbia's Kosovo province stares out from a truck transporting him, his mother and some 50 others to the Albanian city Bajram Curri. Refugees continue to flee fighting between Ethnic Albanians in the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) and Yugoslav forces. Major powers, meanwhile, backed by plans for a display of NATO air power, will seek to ratchet up political pressure on Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to end a bloody crackdown in Kosovo. 

June 11, 1998 Bajran Curri, Albania

The mountains around here are impossibly beautiful and impressively high. Towering over the valley where Bajran Curri lays, they ring the border between Serbia and Albania, remarkably still capped by snow in the June Balkan heat. Lately, ethnic Albanians, seeking refuge from the latest round of Serbian aggression have been walking over these mountains into Europeís poorest nation.

But as the Kosovars, as they are called, trickle over the mountains, their brethren, men and boys who have fled before, are streaming back into Kosovo armed with AK-47s, recoilless rifles, hand grenades and ammunition all purchased from local arms dealers. These men and boys make up the bulk of the Kosovo Liberation Army, the KLA, which after years of waiting for Serb President Slobodan Milosevic to restore autonomy, has finally taken up arms.

The refugees come walking over the mountains carrying what few possessions they  grabbed while staring down the barrels of Serbian guns. The children walk through the night in ballet slippers that are burst at the seams, or plastic sandals, their heels and toes exposed. The women wear fancy dress shoes which are spoiled by the rocks and mud from the path. The men are better prepared but look worn and tired after walking all night, carrying their younger children and making sure their families are safe during the journey.

The men stop here, in Bajran Curri or Tropoja which is closer to the border, arrange shelter or further transport for their children and wives and decide how to spend their money. Usually itís on guns and ammo to take the fight back to the Serbs. One man we talked to today who took his family from their home in the Kosovo village of Smolica to Tropoja said he didnít know whether he would spend the $200 he brought with him on his family or on weapons with which to fight the Serbs. Since he had a cousin whom he had lodged his family with, I reckon heíll spend the money on weapons and ammo and be on the next mule train back over the mountains.

The mule trains are from another century. The road they ply is rugged, a 4X4 vehicle is required to drive them, and the mules can go up the trails and over the mountains which no car could manage. The KLA fighters, old and new, walk beside the mules whose saddles are piled high with flour, cooking oil, ammunition, guns, hand grenades and other supplies needed by a guerrilla army. Itís almost impossible to take pictures of these mule caravans; the KLA hasnít figured out public relations yet and doesnít know that if they can show how they taking the fight to the Serbs, they can get world opinion on their side and not just against Milosevic and his thugs. So we watch from afar as the men and their mules wind their way up the road and back into Kosovo.

It seems that the international community is finally getting their act together after watching Croatia, Somalia, Rwanda, Zaire and Bosnia fall apart. Recognizing Ethnic Cleansing quickly the contact group today decided to pick targets IN Yugoslavia and have directed NATO aircraft to fly low and fast on practice bombing runs in a show of air power. Whether this intimidates the Serb president remains to be seen. If the show of air power is subsequently followed by real force Milosevic may finally topple as heís lost half of Yugoslavia in elections two weeks ago in Montenegro. Still, heís nothing if not wily and he hasnít defied the international community since 1989 by being stupid.

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