Balkans split over war

BELGRADE/PRISTINA – The prospect of war on Iraq prompted conflicting reactions from Serbs and Albanians who underwent US-led bombing in 1999. While Serbs expressed sympathy for the Iraqi people, Kosovo Albanians thought they would welcome the coming onslaught. «I love America, I love Americans, they are the hope for people suffering around the world,» said Kosovo Albanian pensioner Muhamet Delija. Delija described the conflict as the third in four years «to liberate people from dictatorship,» citing the 1999 campaign to drive Serbian forces from Kosovo and the ouster of the Taliban from Afghanistan after the attacks on America in 2001. It could not have been viewed more differently in Belgrade. «I really feel sorry for the Iraqis. I know how they’re feeling, probably worried sick for their children,» said Svetlana, walking her 3-year-old daughter through a city still scarred by the 11-week bombing in spring 1999. NATO launched the campaign against Serbia to halt a bloody crackdown by troops of then-Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic on an independence drive by guerrillas from the Muslim ethnic Albanian majority in its Kosovo province. The transatlantic alliance’s largest military action in Europe, the bombing was aimed at military targets but killed around 500 civilians, described by NATO as collateral damage. Many Serbs were left with strongly anti-American sentiments, but it had the opposite effect on most Kosovo Albanians, even though they made up many of the victims of the bombing errors and suffered Serb retaliation while it went on. «The world is powerless and that’s what embitters me,» said Nada, a 58-year-old Serbian financial adviser. Belgrade pensioner Tonka said that she at least had enough electricity and food during the bombing. «Iraqis will end up worse off than us. It is different and they have already been hungry for 10 years,» she said. Milan Petrovski, selling pirate videos in front of a shopping megastore, said America wanted to remove the leaders in Iraq and Serbia but did not care about the people. «Now they are after (Saddam) Hussein, here they wanted Milosevic. And what good did we get – he stepped down and our poverty only increased,» the 54-year-old said vehemently. Svetlana felt similarly. «Americans are a sick nation. Their logic is: If someone is an obstacle, get him out of the way.» Milosevic was ousted by a popular uprising in October 2000. A pro-Western coalition in Serbia has begun economic reforms but has yet to improve living standards and suffered a major blow with the assassination of Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic last week. Kosovo Albanian student Arbnor Veliua, on the other hand, said his people had much to be thankful for. «The Iraqi people will be grateful to the Americans,» said the 22-year-old. When Milosevic finally agreed to let NATO troops into Kosovo, most of the Serbs living there either fled or were driven out by retaliatory attacks from local Albanians. NATO stayed and the province was placed under UN administration. «Look at us,» Veliua said. «I can’t imagine what Kosovo might look like today if we were still under a Serbian, Milosevic regime.» (Additional reporting by Beti Bilandzic.)

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