DECANI-PEC ROAD IN KOSOVO, Yugoslavia--A 22-year-old university student from Pristina, the capital of Kosovo, is weeping as our red Volkswagen Golf moves through village after destroyed village. We are driving south from the western Kosovo city of Pec to Decani, the region where, for the past month, Serb forces have launched an all-out attack to reclaim territory held by the ethnic Albanian resistance movement, the Kosovo Liberation Army.
The fighting has forced more than 100,000 people to flee--some 10,000 of them on foot--over the mountain to our right, which makes up the Kosovo-Albanian frontier.
The fertile green landscape is marred by a series of farmhouses, once proud and sturdy and now in various states of collapse. A formerly white stucco house with a red shingle roof has been turned black by fire. Grapefruit-size holes pock another house, whose roof is also gone. Inside one storefront, the abandoned butt of a long-barreled rifle sticks out between two metal bars. In a snapshot that reminds me of the conflict in Bosnia, the minaret of a mosque has been blown off.
But most disturbing of all is the smell, particularly strong near the village of Prilep, of decomposing bodies. It is not clear if the flesh is animal or human, because the Serb guides leading our convoy of journalists will not let us look more closely.
Two months ago, traveling 50 miles to the east, I visited the site of the first massacre in the Balkans since Bosnia. The 53 ethnic Albanian inhabitants of the village of Donji Prekaz in the central Kosovo region of Drenica lay newly buried under wooden sticks in a field behind their family compound. The killing was so fresh when I went that many of their abandoned farm animals were still alive.
Since then, Kosovo has exploded into a war, and the scene from Drenica has repeated itself in dozens of villages, whose surviving inhabitants have fled for their lives. Others have come back to fight. The KLA, only rumored to exist in March, is now reported to control 40 percent of the province, including much of the main east-west highway connecting Pec with Pristina. Its recruits are mostly men whom the fighting has driven out of their villages.
The Serb officials giving us Western journalists this tour of their work don't see it that way. They say the Albanian terrorists--as they call the people who have taken up guns to protect their homes--have brought this on themselves.
"Now you are invited to see the consequences of our artillery against the facilities of the terrorists!" says Gen. Sreten Lukic of the Serb police force, pointing to a group of destroyed homes that formerly made up one village. In a show made absurd by the absence of any local people, Serb police dressed in navy blue camouflage drop to their bellies and take positions on a hill, their automatic rifles pointed, to "cover" us from potential Albanian terrorists.
Meanwhile, plainclothes thugs, clearly Serbian secret police, surround us to make sure we don't slow down to take the wrong photograph or kick around the fresh dirt near the side of the road. We are not to venture off the carefully choreographed path they have chosen to show us. To deter us from exploring on our own, they warn that the "terrorists" have mined the area after burning their own homes. The Serb officials' propaganda is so primitive, it is hard to know if they believe it themselves.
Surveying the exploded houses and abandoned villages, all of which I saw inhabited two months ago, Lukic says, "We have a responsibility and the right to make the roads safe for traffic and for the movement of goods."
During the hours of driving in western Kosovo, we didn't see much civilian traffic, only the green army trucks carrying Yugoslav army draftees making the three-fingered symbol of Serbian nationalism at our convoy, laughing and passing cigarettes among themselves. And blue buses carrying thousands of Serbian police, wearing the same uniforms the Serbs in Bosnia wear.
Reporter Laura Kay Rozen has traveled to the Balkans several times in the last three years.