by Bojan BILBIJA
From Orahovac they can be reached via the so-called Serb street. The part of the street bordering the Albanian part of the town has been completely torched and destroyed. Even this border zone is off limits to the Serbs.
Despite the fact that the Albanian authorities emphasize that comprehensive measures are being implemented for returns and the improvement of living conditions, many Serbs still feel unsafe. Reporters from Serbia who had an opportunity to visit a few enclaves inhabited by Serbs and other non-Albanians at the end of June upon the invitation of the Kosovo government could testify that currently there is no freedom of movement and that it is unlikely that the situation will improve anytime soon. Serbs live in a ghetto with security of sorts provided by members of international forces who constantly patrol the vicinity. However, only a day after our arrival unknown perpetrators in Orahovac wounded three UNMIK policemen.
Before the NATO bombing, Orahovac municipality had a population of 50,000 people, 5,000 of them Serbs. A similar number of minority Serbs stayed for a brief time after the end of the war prior to the beginning of the departure process. Now about 1,000 members of the Serb minority remain and departures are continuing...
Orahovac municipality president Esat Haxhijaha said that the population of Orahovac is primarily engaged in agriculture - viniculture and vegetable growing.
"The grape has been cultivated here for two thousand years but because of the war we lost our market. In the past good and harmonious interethnic relations prevailed here. Serbs and Albanians were even close family friends. Now we want to make everything the same as it was before. That is why we have founded a special work group that later grew into a permanent committee of 17 members that will be dealing with these issues. As far as freedom of movement and returns are concerned, there has not been a lot of progress."
Haxhijaha, who speaks exceptionally good Serbian, further stated that the municipal administration will soon be starting construction of 41 houses for Serbian returnees in the nearby village of Zociste, adding that the project is being funded from the budget of the provincial government.
Ljubisa Djuricic, municipal vice president, sees the situation differently. He complained to reporters that as far as Zociste is concerned the administration is conditioning the rebuilding of the destroyed monastery of the Sts. Cosmas and Damian - on the return of Serbs to the village!
Djuricic, a member of the Return Coalition, said that at the present pace it will take "several hundred years to return the remaining 3,800 Serbs to Orahovac"! During "go-and-see" visits, explained Djuricic, Serb owners frequently are prevented from visiting their homes because "the usurpers refuse to let them inspect their property and the authorities do nothing to sanction them".
Djuricic said that since the arrival of international forces in Kosovo and Metohija, 14 Serbs have been killed in Orahovac municipality. Four had died before, immediately after the departure of our army and police during a period of anarchy. Before the war 40 Serbs were kidnapped [from Orahovac municipality] and 26 more were abducted after June 10, 1999. Since then, approximately 250 Serbian homes and six churches in Orahovac have been torched, and 155 apartments have been illegally occupied, Djuricic said, emphasizing the horrifying statistics.
"Albanians are telling some Serbs from Zociste not to return because they will be arrested for alleged war crimes! The Serbs in the enclaves of Kosovo and Metohija have lost their safety and their freedom of movement, their right to work and health protection. Only since the end of 2004 has short and limited movement through the territory of Orahovac municipality become possible for about ten of us but the rest of the Serb community is extremely frightened and cannot move around without serious consequences," said Djuricic. He added that after six years, members of minorities still do not have the possibility of returning to their jobs in socially-owned [state-owned] companies.
Our collocutor said that intimidation and terror are still present in Orahovac.
"Fires are constantly being set in the upper, Serb part of Orahovac. For example, on December 20, 2004, the house of Stojan Grkovic was burned down. He had built the house in 2001, that is, after the war! Furthermore, official forms in municipal institutions are still available only in Albanian. If things stay the way they are, there won't be any return. Instead, the remaining Serbs will leave Orahovac. I must point out that Serbs are constantly leaving from Orahovac and that soon none of them will remain," appealed Ljubisa Djuricic.