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Serbs Return to Kosovo


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

In 1999, NATO intervened to stop escalating fighting between Serbs and Albanians in Kosovo, a province of Serbia. Afterwards, 800,000 Albanians who had been driven from their homes by Serb forces were able to return. Meanwhile, many Serb residents of Kosovo, fearing retribution, fled along with the retreating Serb forces. Most of those residents did not return. Now some Serbs are going back. Eleanor Beardsley reports on one Serb family that returned recently to western Kosovo.

(Soundbite of knocking)

Mr. MILORAD PAVLOVIC (Kosovo Resident) (Foreign language spoken)

Unidentified Man #1: (Foreign language spoken)


Milorad Pavlovic and his wife and mother have just moved back to their apartment in the center of the town of Klina. While half the town's population used to be Serb, six years after the war, the Pavlovic family is one of only two Serb families who have returned here. As Pavlovic thinks back to the day in June 1999 when they fled, he says he never imagined it would take so long to come back home.

Mr. PAVLOVIC: (Through Translator) The decision to leave Kosovo was a five-minute decision. My wife was in the bathroom when we decided to leave, and she left in slippers. You hear shots all around, you hear the words, `This one will get killed, this one got killed,' so I took my mother, I took my wife, we sat in one vehicle and just drove, take off.

BEARDSLEY: While Pavlovic's apartment has been stripped of everything, what's important he says is that the Albanians who were squatting in it left willingly and gave him back the key.

Despite a flurry of reconstruction, Klina's town hall is still a bombed-out shell. But it's the invisible damage from the conflict that keeps the town from returning to normal. More than 100 of Klina's Albanian citizens are still missing and many Albanians say they suspect some of the town's Serbs of participating in war crimes, whether that's true or not.

Unidentified Man #2: (Foreign language spoken)

BEARDSLEY: Albanians like this man don't want to talk about the two Serb families who have returned to Klina. Klina native Sam Gjergi says that's normal in a town still haunted by the war.

Mr. SAM GJERGI (Klina Native): Some people are afraid of--to talk about it. Would they sound patriotic enough or not, would they have problems afterwards or--but I think as long as they can live here, they go out in the market freely without an escort and they go out in the street and they pay their bills, I believe it's really good. No one can force me to love someone. But what I can force myself is to respect someone.

BEARDSLEY: American David Halley works for the United Nations Mission in Kosovo. His job is to help serve families like the Pavlovics return to their homes. He says as Serbs return, the fear is often just as high on the Albanian side.

Mr. DAVID HALLEY (United Nations Mission): They were afraid that we weren't just going to bring the Serbs back, but that we were going to bring Serbia back to Kosovo. And when people began to understand this distinction, some of the resistance started to go down.

BEARDSLEY: Halley says that while Serbs are returning in greater numbers to rural villages, coming back to an apartment block smack in the middle of an Albanian town takes courage.

Mr. PAVLOVIC: These here, the houses you see, are all Serb properties.

BEARDSLEY: As Pavlovic goes out to buy milk at one of the local shops, he points out where his Serbian neighbors used to live. He says he hopes they too will return some day. But in the meantime, Pavlovic says he's determined to live with Albanian neighbors. He talks to this shop boy in fluent Albanian.

Mr. PAVLOVIC: (Albanian spoken)

Unidentified Albanian Boy: (Albanian spoken)

Mr. PAVLOVIC: (Albanian spoken)

Unidentified Albanian Boy: (Albanian spoken)

Mr. PAVLOVIC: (Albanian spoken)

BEARDSLEY: Pavlovic says most of the people don't want to talk to him, but he thinks that's normal.

Mr. PAVLOVIC: (Through Translator) Nothing can happen at once. The ice has to be broken first and then things will gradually improve. I mean, nothing can improve overnight. We do understand this.

BEARDSLEY: Serbs like Pavlovic are slowly returning to Kosovo as Albanian communities become more accepting of them. The freedom for Serbs to return to their homes is one of the conditions the UN has placed on Kosovo's majority Albanian community before issues like Kosovo's possible independence can even be discussed. While it may be a long time before Serbs and Albanians live together as neighbors, people here do agree that rebuilding a tolerance, multiethnic Kosovo is in everyone's interest.

For NPR News, I'm Eleanor Beardsley. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.