Kosovo

Notes from different corners of the world.
June 26 1998 3:30 AM

Kosovo

VIEW ALL ENTRIES

       DECANI REGION IN WESTERN KOSOVO, Yugoslavia--From their fields and farms, which are dolloped with enormous haystacks, villagers wave at Richard Holbrooke as he and his diplomatic entourage--in a convoy of armored four-wheel-drive vehicles, U.S. flags pinned above the headlights--race by stretches of Kosovo that are not yet at war.
       And then we come to a region where there simply are no inhabitants left: the whole road running from the southwestern Kosovo city of Djakovica north to Decani and Pec, along Kosovo's western border with Albania. Almost every house has been shelled to ruins. Every few hundred feet, Serb police crouch in snipers' nests behind sandbags, camouflaged by tree branches. More Serb police snipers cluster in the shadows inside destroyed buildings, monitoring the road.
       Yugoslav soldiers in two enormous green tanks and cars full of police wait as Holbrooke gets out to survey one particularly devastated area near the western Kosovo city of Decani, which almost all the 15,000 original villagers have fled.
       As the Serb forces watch, Holbrooke tells us journalists who have been tailing him that the destruction reminds him of when he visited western Bosnia in 1992. He says he thinks the Serb security forces should get out and let the original residents return.
       Later, Holbrooke's convoy heads west from the main road to Junik, a village of ethnic Albanians that is only a few kilometers from the Albanian border and has been completely surrounded by Serb forces. The police accompanying his convoy prevent us journalists (in four cars) from following. We are told to wait, across the street from their Serb police checkpoint, while Holbrooke has his meetings a few kilometers to the east. The Serb journalists among us eventually go chat with the Serb police, who are standing behind their sandbagged checkpoint and drinking the local liqueur, rakia.
       The rest of us wait in our cars in the terrible heat. In the distance, we can hear the muffled sound of explosions and occasionally of artillery fire.
       An hour goes by, and the U.S. diplomats still haven't returned.
       Then, from a field to the left of our cars, a green Yugoslav army helicopter starts flying very, very low toward us.
       As I watch the helicopter approach, I suddenly hear ping ping ping all around the car. It takes me a moment to realize that someone is shooting at us, or at least near us. The other journalists and I run toward the sandbags, where the police have us crouch behind a cement wall--the only part left standing of a house they probably destroyed. One bullet enters a Serb police car parked beside the checkpoint, but no one is injured, not even the policeman sleeping in the back seat. The bullet lodges between the front and back seats.
       As we crouch behind the wall, waiting for Holbrooke to return, the police offer us water and rakia and order reinforcements. They tell us to write about how the armed Albanian militants shoot at them. The Serb and ethnic Albanian journalists in our group argue over whether the Serbs have staged the attack or whether we have been caught in the midst of genuine crossfire between Serb forces and Albanian militants.
       When the Holbrooke delegation arrives at the crossroads 10 minutes later, they have no idea of what has gone on.
       A U.S. general traveling in civilian clothes with the diplomats says that from the calm look on the Serb police's faces, he has a hard time believing a firefight has taken place. The Serb journalists insist the Serb police are simply slightly drunk, and that they are used to it.
       Holbrooke says his goal now is to prevent the current conflict from turning into an all-out war. But in Pristina, it feels like the war is moving here so rapidly, it is too late.

Reporter Laura Kay Rozen has traveled to the Balkans several times in the last three years.

  Slate Plus
Slate Archives
Nov. 26 2014 12:36 PM Slate Voice: “If It Happened There,” Thanksgiving Edition Josh Keating reads his piece on America’s annual festival pilgrimage.