Endgame in Kosovo

Across this near-exhausted century, imagery recurs. The knock at the door, the forced march, the mass evacuation—expressions now impossible to hear without their attendant echoes:

PRISTINA—The Albanian districts of the city have been pretty much emptied of their residents by now. Almost every home has been broken into, not even looted but simply destroyed.

The streets are filled with the sound of heavy gunfire both day and night…. Everyone seems to be shooting….

I just interviewed the doctors who saw the body of the slain human-rights lawyer Bayram Klimendi. They said they could not confirm how many times he’d been shot because his body showed “bad and deep signs of maltreatment”—torture….

My friends in the outside world call and tell me to leave. God, I do want to get out of here. I can’t stand it anymore….

But now it seems we have no choice. The knock on the door we had long feared has finally come. My family and I have been ordered to leave.

There is no time to finish this report. We have to leave NOW. I don’t know where. It seems I am about to join the ranks of the refugees I was writing about only a few days ago.

Pray for me. Goodbye.

One can envision the scene even as these words were hastily written: looming in the doorway heavily armed Interior Ministry troops—automatic weapons, long knives, red berets, woolen masks covering their faces. Even as the correspondent and his family drag their suitcases out the door, the men prod them with the muzzles of their rifles, hustling them as they stumble out into the packed street, there to join a great river of frightened people trudging in silence toward the railway station. They arrive to find scenes of unmitigated chaos: jammed coaches, mobbed platforms, vast crowds waiting for hours in fields around the building. Babies cry, the old and the sick moan. Each family’s story is much the same:

Then they were herded into passenger cars and livestock cars. Their money and their documents were stolen….

Before the trains departed…, Serbian troops joked bitterly that refugees were being given free train trips to Macedonia in exchange for their homes and belongings….

Enver Vrajolli, 25, an economics student, said he saw what happened to a neighbor in his sixties who refused to leave his house. He was shot.

We had only one choice: to leave or be killed. We chose to go,” said Vrajolli…. “As we were leaving, [the city] was empty. There were only military forces and police left.”

It was very horrible,” Gjylizare Babatinca, 32, said as she described how her family was forced out of a house Wednesday by masked Serbs with automatic rifles…. “We were forced into the train cars they use for animals. We were packed tightly together…. It was completely dark, and we did not know where we were going.”

The historical resonances could not be stronger, of course …

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