by Jelena BJELICA
It is estimated that between 90,000 and 100,000 Serbs remain in Kosovo; in predominantly Albanian settlements, they have no freedom of movement, speech or protection from frequent attacks by Albanian extremist elements. In the ghettos, as Randjel Nojkic, a member of the Serb National Council of Kosovo and Metohija in Gracanica calls the Serb enclaves, and in Kosovska Mitrovica, the largest ghetto, located in northern Kosovo, life is a little more "normal".
However, the problem is that getting to Kosovska Mitrovica, to the Serb half of the city in the north of Kosovo from, say, Kosovo Polje, is impossible without KFOR protection or the use of the free and perhaps ironically named Freedom of Movement train on the route Kosovo Polje-Zvecan-Kosovo Polje-Lipljan-Kosovo Polje.
At the entrance to the empty railway station in Kosovo Polje, as Swedish KFOR troops keep watch over the situation with guns at the ready, one of three international locomotive engineers starts the engine.
We're not sure if it was the Italian, the Canadian or the Australian that day.
First the head of one of the 26 Greek soldiers securing the train appears from one of the wagons, then a hand which gives the signal to board.
The train is old with windows that are cracked from frequent attacks with rocks.
In compartment number eight, near the first station in Krusevo, where there are no more Serbs now, Jasmina Pocuca, born in Kraljevo, married in Kosovo Polje, tells her story:
"I work in the Health Center but our entire operation is now in Mitrovica. I cannot walk anywhere, not even to work. There are few Serbs left in Kosovo Polje. Everyone who could and had to leave is gone."
The train stops. We hear the muted squeal of breaks and the locomotive lets out a long whistle. Obilic.
Vesna Derikravic is one of about 300 Serbs who remain in Obilic. She travels to Mitrovica every Saturday because her son is in the north...
"I had to take him somewhere safe. The train stopped running for a while because the Shiptars [Albanians] blew up the railroad track. This is our only means of transportation."
The multiethnically conceived train runs twice a day from Obilic on through Plemetina and Priluzje, both Serb enclaves; and then Mijalici, Samodreza and Vucitrn, all now empty of Serbs; ethnically mixed Svinjare; the southern, Albanian half of Mitrovica; and on to Zvecan.
Sonja Petrovic of Svinjare has four children and a wall around her house to protect them. The only safe way of getting to Svinjare, the local Serbs tell us, is by rail.
Troops patrol the surrounding hills in this zone under the protection of French KFOR. An occasional helicopter flies over the train.
In one of the last cars, vodka is poured as contractors Pucko and Babus from northern Kosovo happily toast their return home.
"We were in Grace and Babin Most. We finished up work on the new Sveti Sava elementary school. You wouldn't believe some of the places we've been. We haven't seen a civilian in ten days!"
They tell us that Albanians started work on the school and they went to finish the job. But their impression of ethnically mixed settlements is too strong.
"You can't move anywhere. So we got in the car and took the main road to Kosovo Polje, then to Babin Most. Zoom!"
After an almost hour-and-a-half trip, passengers board and disembark in Zvecan while laborers load up basic supplies, pork for the isolated Serb enclaves and "cheaper" goods from Serbia.
Sonja's husband takes their two youngest children in his arms as colleagues hand four plastic smuggler's flea market bags full of goods from the marketplace to Gypsies from Kosovo Polje who have not even gotten off the train.