Skip to comments.Peacekeepers return from Kosovo with disturbing tales of Albanian partisans and Serbian mass graves
Posted on 05/02/2003 8:37:57 PM PDT by Destro
Peacekeepers return from Kosovo
Soldiers assigned to KFOR duties back home after 180 days in disputed province
A joint Czech-Slovak battalion is carrying out a peacekeeping mission in Kosovo. It contends with armed partisans and a lack of beer.
By Eva Munk
For The Prague Post
(May 1, 2003)
For 180 days, the 300 soldiers of the 43rd Airborne Battalion from Chrudim, east Bohemia and the First Motorized Company from Martin, central Slovakia, cloistered in stark barracks on a hilltop. They were stationed in a dusty burg called Podujevo, 30 kilometers (19 miles) from the nearest town.
Except for patrolling the 120 kilometers of ABL (administrative boundary line -- the Serbs do not accept the use of the term border) and the 885-square-kilometer (354-square-mile) area northwest of Pristina, the troops were not allowed to leave the base.
Worse, they had no beer. Since arriving in Kosovo last Sept. 28, the soldiers did not taste alcohol. They even hailed the New Year with nonalcoholic champagne. Neither could they resort to that beloved Czech activity of picking mushrooms in the surrounding hills.
"You just don't know what's out there," explained Battalion Commander Petr Prochazka. "This area was full of partisan supply routes, and NATO peppered it with live rounds with no system whatsoever. It's just not worth the risk to stray off the paths."
After six months of guarding the Kosovo-Serbia boundary, the 2nd Czech-Slovak KFOR (Kosovo Force) Battalion headed home April 23, as part of its normal rotation schedule.
Soldiers say they have witnessed deprivation, ethnic hatred and the frustrating aftermath of the 1998 war in Kosovo, in which Serbian-Albanian tensions resulted in mass graves and permanent distrust.
The troops, however, live in relative comfort, with hot showers, Czech TV channels and HBO beamed in by satellite, and regular communication with their families via cell phone. The headquarters company even had a "saloon," complete with swinging doors, a bleached cow skull nailed to a post, a bar and a fireplace with a grill between two narrow firing posts punched into the 2-meter-thick (7-foot) perimeter wall in case of a very real attack.
"We will defend our steaks to the last man," one soldier joked.
Prefer to see action
Many brooded over the "luck" of buddies from Chrudim who are accompanying the field hospital and chemical-warfare unit in Iraq and Kuwait.
"I think a lot of the soldiers envy their chance to see some action," Prochazka said. Although security was tightened since the outbreak of the war in Iraq, there have not been any displays of violence in the area.
The battalion's main mission is to ensure a safe environment for all the ethnic groups in its area of operations -- a moot point these days, as the region is almost "ethnically clean." Aside from pockets of Roma, or gypsies, it consists entirely of ethnic Albanians. Of the fairly large Serb population that once occupied the area, only 28 old-timers remain in the mountain hamlet of Sekirac. A Czech-Slovak "observation post" nearby ensures their safety.
A handful of old Serb Orthodox churches, surrounded by barbed wire and guarded by KFOR, testify that Serbs had lived in the area for a long time.
"They've been here since the battle of Kosovo Polje in 1389," said press officer Pavel Loeffler. "Now the locals are trying wipe out all evidence they were ever here. The Swedish unit, which was here before us, stopped guarding two churches near Podujevo. They were blown up within a week."
Occasionally the soldiers are sent to disarm a leftover pocket of KLA (Kosovo Liberation Army) partisans who didn't turn in their arms after the 1998 war. The raids sometimes lead to hostility among the inhabitants.
"Of course they're not friendly when we come into their houses in the morning without warning. You've got to keep in mind that these guys are still local heroes," Prochazka said.
The partisans now present the biggest threat in the area, he said. Many of those who did not join the recently formed Kosovo Protection Corps -- a legitimate military force created for the defense of Kosovo -- have joined the ranks of the mafia instead, according to Prochazka. This situation is yet another reason for KFOR to create a secure environment as soon as possible.
"We have to establish confidence in the legitimate government among the local population; otherwise they will be fair game for the mafia," Prochazka said. To this end, KFOR soldiers try to improve the conditions by using military technology to rebuild roads, put up power lines and repair damaged facilities. Mostly, the Czechs have concentrated on rebuilding schools.
"We want to target the youngsters who are going to be running things soon. There's not much chance we'll be able to budge the older ones," Prochazka said, not bothering to hide his exasperation. "They've just gotten too used to living from handouts."
Of course, he said, life is not easy for the ethnic Albanians. Many families survive on a pension of about 60 euros (1,890 Kc/$65) per month per adult male. Most have houses built of bright-red UN bricks, but they have little left over for electricity or heating. Although these houses are two or three stories high, the families crowd into two ground-floor rooms heated by wood-burning stoves.
"The NGOs [nongovernmental organizations] gave refugees who lost their houses material for new ones as incentive for them to come back, but there wasn't enough left over for things like insulation," Prochazka says.
This situation indirectly leads to friction with the Serb patrols on the boundary line.
"Wood is the main source of heating, which is why you won't find a mature tree on this side of the border," he said. "So the locals just hitch a horse to a cart and go to the Serbian side. Then we get a panic call saying that the Serbian police have kidnapped an Albanian and dragged him over to their side. But when we get there and find a chain saw still hot on the Serbian side, it's fairly obvious [what has happened]."
Some Czech and Slovak KFOR soldiers have changed their attitudes toward the situation in their area of Kosovo.
Finding the way out of poverty
"When you get here and see the poverty, you really want to help. But many people here are happy to live with less, as long as they don't have to exert themselves to get more," said Lieutenant Pavel Mraz, who is in charge of the battalion's civil-military cooperation unit. "I've realized that the best way to help is to reduce their dependence on outside help."
Occasionally, however, something does remind them that a real tragedy happened here.
Less than a month ago, UN units discovered a mass grave in the area, and the bodies of several dozen victims were brought to the battalion's outpost at the village of Gazela.
"The relatives had a chance to identify them by the clothes, which were put in a separate tent. The smell is not something I would like to endure again," Loeffler said. "We didn't have much luck. Two busloads of Serbians came in, but only a few were able to identify some family members."
He said he thought there were many more such graves in the territory, but the chances of finding them are slim.
"The locals aren't going to lead us to them," he said.
"It would hurt their image as the only victims."
"The Albanian locals aren't going to lead us to them," he said.
"It would hurt their image as the only victims."
The truth--from the Czech/Slovaks!! God bless them!!
Email her with a thank you.
In short, no one suggests except sore losers, mostly Serb expats and descendants who dominate the Balkan threads in this neighborhood, that the "solution" to Kosovo is to return it to Serbia, including the Serbs themselves by and large. What the Serbs now want is to carve off some bits of Kosovo. It won't get that either, except perhaps in time that canton that is almost totally Serb, Leposevic, or some such name, located in that bit of Kosovo that juts north. They want the mines, and the regions adjacent. That is a pipe dream.
Choke on it!
More to choke on, loser.
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