Pristina, April 9, 2001

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Slobo in the slammer and other experiences

Serbian special forces make their way into the palace of former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic.
Serbian special forces make their way into the palace of former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic.
Friday night a week ago, I was three meters away when Serbian special forces tried to break into Slobodan Milosevic’s luxury villa with automatic rifles and stun grenades. Quite an interesting experience, but the attempt failed. The next night, Slobodan surrendered more or less voluntarily. I guess he had little choice but surrendering after he lost the support of the army.

But let me tell you about this Friday night I was waiting outside Slobo's villa waiting for his arrest. Outside his former residence there has been a lot of supporters from the Slobo's Socialist Party of Serbia. About 50 supporters have showed their support for the former president. However, the number had boosted to 2-300 because of by rumors that Serbian security were going to arrest Milosevic that night. The Slobo supporters were nervous, but they kept up the spirit with a bonfire, songs and slogans supporting their leader.

"Who are you, and who are you working for?" shouted this man. The Slobo supporters were not very friendly to foreign press.
"Who are you, and who are you working for?" shouted this man. The Slobo supporters were not very friendly to foreign press.
However, the foreign press was not very welcome. "Who are you? Who are you working for?" aggressive people from the crowd shouted at me. I tried to pull back, but I was pushed and one of the Slobo supporters was spitting at my head as I was walking away from them.   Later in the evening, there were many rumors of Slobo's imminent arrest and at 0200 in the morning, Serbian riot police took position to remove the demonstrators from the gate of Slobo's property.

The journalists were allowed to get inside the police barricades, and the demonstrators shouted insults at the police and the press corps. "Are you with NATO or Serbia," the crowd shouted to the police. The atmosphere grew more hostile and the crowd shouted "Nazi pigs" and "Bastards" to the press corps. They also showed their discomfort throwing wooden sticks at us.

Inside the barricades, I met 22 year-old Milos Danilovic. For him this was a great night. "For ten years these policemen have beaten me. Now they protect me against Slobodan’s supporters," he said.

Supporters of Slobodan Milosevic kept warm using a bonfire, shouting slogans and singing songs. Many of them were armed with personal weapons.
Supporters of Slobodan Milosevic kept warm using a bonfire, shouting slogans and singing songs. Many of them were armed with personal weapons.
At 0230 the police had control on the crowd, and it was time Serbian special forces to move in. A couple of vans and jeeps came full speed in front of the press corps, and we just had to run away. Masked men with automatic rifles jumped out of the cars while firing automatic rifles and stun grenades. They jumped over the wall to Slobo's compound, but inside they met resistance from Milosevic's private body guards. One police officer and one photographers were injured in crossfire.

I wasn't more that three meters from the special forces when they moved in. Later Yugoslav president Vojislav Kostunica criticized the attempt to arrest Milosevic that night. I'm inclined to agree with him. I think a more effective way would be to take helicopters directly in to Milosevic's villa. This night they were stopped by Slobo's cronies before they got to the village. And then they would not put the life if the journalists in danger either.

Of other experiences I've had lately, I know what it is like being shot at. This time in Tetevo in Macedonia. As I'm sure most of you know, Albanian rebels have staged a little war against Macedonian security forces. I wanted to have a chat with these rebels.

This is where the Albanian rebels had set up a road block. At this time they were not interested in talking to foreign press.
This is where the Albanian rebels had set up a road block. At this time they were not interested in talking to foreign press.
Half way up to one of the rebel villages, we met a rebel road block. Since we couldn't get anywhere we stopped the car waiting for the rebels to approach us. We didn't hear anything, but they started to pelt rocks at us. Then they shouted something in Albanian. Then they shouted zurück, zurück, which means go back in German. OK that was clear enough, we thought and turned around the car. About 500 meter down the hill, we wanted to make a panorama picture of Tetevo, and I got out of the car. That was when a bullet hit the ground one meter from me. I ran to the car, threw myself in and shouted goooooo. Alex, my British friend, is a good getaway driver, and he sped down the small road doing 40 miles an hour in second gear. That was some ride, and I enjoyed it very much. It was just a warning shot from the rebels to tell us they did not want us in their turf, and I think they got a good laugh when they saw our reaction to the shot.

Now I'm back in Kosovo, and a couple of days ago I talked to an Albanian friend. He thought the war had started too soon. He thought that first Kosovo should get their independence, and then they could start their war in Macedonia. I would think that is quite scary prospects for the stability in the Balkans if Kosovo gets their independence. My impression is that the Macedonian rebels get an increasing level of support in the Kosovo Albanian society, and I believe these rebels have managed to radicalize the Albanian population.

One episode I think is very important there is that shooting of two Albanians allegedly trying to throw a hand grenade at a Macedonian police position. Albanians claim that these men were unarmed, but I'm not so sure. I wasn't there personally to witness the incident, but I've seen pictures of a man holding something that looks like a hand grenade. Albanians claim that this is a mobile phone, but it doesn't come smoke from a mobile phone.

In any case, I think this was very important for the recruitment to the rebels. If there is not a negotiated settlement to this conflict within one month, I believe we will see more organized attacks from the rebels. I've heard Albanians complain about the lack of skilled officers in the Macedonian UCK. Allegedly, there are only peasants acting as commanders. The main demand of the Albanians for now is for Macedonia to make Albanian language equal to Macedonian and an equal status between Albanians and Macedonians.

A negotiated settlement would stop the fighting for now, but I don't think the Macedonians are willing to give as much as the Albanians want, at least not now. If they agree to the demands of the Albanians now, they would give an impression of an successful campaign of the rebels. Unfortunately, I don't think I will be unemployed for a while.

Lastly, let me give you a little practical note. I have a new Yugoslav mobile telephone, and you can contact me that phone any time. You might have to use the redial button some times because the network is not very reliable in Kosovo, but it should work. If you are unable to get through, you can try my Norwegian mobile. As before, if you feel you do not belong on my list, drop me a note, and I'll take you off immediately.

Sincerely

--
Kristian Kahrs, freelance journalist, Yugoslavia
Homepage:
http://home.no.net/kkahrs
Norwegian mobile: +47 93 00 25 22
Yugoslav mobile: + 381 638 504 383  

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