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Kosovo Report: Battle for Caglavica
Paul Polansky reports from Pristina
The prettiest view of Pristina, the regional capital of Kosovo, is from the top of a hill, a kilometer south of the city on the highway to Macedonia. But today that hilltop has become a battle ground with local Kosovar and ethnic Albanians fighting NATO troops and UN police.
“These are not peaceful demonstrators seeking independence,” the KFOR commanding officer on the front line told me. “Last night they shot at us and we shot back. It was a heavy gun battle. I estimate we killed about 10 Albanians. If they had broken through our lines they would have cut the throats of everyone in the village behind us.”
That village is Caglavica, two kilometers south of Pristina, home to about 200 Serbian and 10 Romani families. Yesterday more than a 1,000 Albanians, many of them students, broke through KFOR lines, overturning and burning seven jeeps, and marched on Caglavica. Before KFOR reinforcements could stop them, the Albanians chanting “KFOR GO HOME” burned ten Serbian homes, and forced many inhabitants to evacuate to other nearby villages.
“The battle eased off about 1:30 this morning,” the CO said. “But we lost one armored personnel carrier and had about 30 soldiers injured.”
Today the “demonstrators” are back on the hilltop with about 1,300 blocking the highway into Pristina. KFOR troops have formed three defensive lines with a company of Norwegians forming the first defensive line. Half a kilometer behind them is a contingent of Indian, Irish and Finnish soldiers. The last line are all Swedes from Got land.
“We expect them to attack sometime this evening,” the CO said. Asked if he would fire on the Albanians if they broke through the first two defensive lines, the CO said: “I wont hesitate to order my men to fire. If the Albanians break through they will massacre every Serb and Rom in the two or three villages behind us.”
The last defensive line consists of 150 Swedish soldiers with 14 APCs. Although most have been up all night, they still looked determined as they strapped on their body armor and cleaned their weapons.
Making up their right flank protecting the town of Grachanica is a company of Czech soldiers. “I’m pleased to have them with us,” the CO said. “They are good soldiers, well-trained and are doing a good job.”
As two NATO helicopters circled overhead relaying information on the Albanians confronting the first line of KFOR troops, the CO admitted there had been many casualties already today. “The helicopters have reported several ambulances coming and going. The Albanians know we are not here to play games with them.”
Although dozens of Serbs gathered on the knolls behind the KFOR soldiers as if watching a soccer match, their numbers have been dwindling fast since 1999. In fact, so many Serbs have left Caglavica for the city of Nish that there is now a neighborhood in that Serbian city called Caglavica. Although some vow they will never leave the village of their Serbian ancestors, many admit that if NATO forces ever leave Kosovo, the Serbs will have to leave with them. As for the Roma, who are too frightened to watch the battle, they are already packing their bags. “We’re going to Germany,” their leader said, “to join relatives. We’ve already paid the smugglers to take us.”
After interviewing the KFOR commanding officer, I drove over to the nearby town of Kosovo Polje where Albanian demonstrators yesterday burned down the former Russian KFOR hospital. Although a Kosovo police car with two officers was parked across the street they were not stopping looters from taking an ambulance and other vehicles from the parking lot of the destroyed hospital. The police did stop me, however, when I got out to take photos. Although I showed them my KFOR press pass, they still detained me until they called headquarters and were told to let me go. But they warned me, no photos of the looting, no photos of the burned down hospital, no photos of the burned down Serbian restaurant where they had parked their car, and no photos of the many houses being burned today in Kosovo Polje on this second day of the Albanian uprising for independence from their UN and NATO saviors of 1999.
March 18, 2004
Paul Polansky is the author of 14 books, four on Kosovo.
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