For exclusive access to all of our fitness, gear, adventure, and travel stories, plus discounts on trips, events, and gear, sign up for Outside+ today and save 20 percent.
Outside magazine, September 1999
By Joshua Hammer
Most of these men were clad in denim jackets, jeans, and either work boots or track shoes. Scattered among them were men in black berets and camouflage shirts whose shoulders bore a small red patch emblazoned with a black, double-headed eagle, the insignia of the Kosovo Liberation Army. Virtually all of the travelers were Kosovar émigrés who had been working in
I fell into conversation with a bearded, long-haired Kosovar eager to convey his ferocity. He called himself The Wolf, and a week earlier he had been scrubbing dishes in a restaurant in Munich. The Wolf told me he had already fought the Serbs once before, in Bosnia, and he said he couldn’t wait to face them again. “The Serbs are fucking animals,” he said. “Rapists. Killers of
The thick fog lifted just as we drew near the lights of the medieval fortress town of Durres. With a bump and a screech, La Vikinga nestled against the dock. I was back in the VIP Lounge when an Albanian customs official walked in and began collecting passports from the dozen journalists and miscellaneous foreigners who were traveling first-class.
The border town of Kukes lies 125 miles north of the Albanian capital, Tirana—a six-hour drive over a bad road through the mountains. I set out for Kukes on a cold rainy morning from the Hotel Europa Rogner. My ride was a rented Nissan Patrol driven by a 21-year-old Albanian driver named Tani and a 33-year-old translator-fixer named Genc, who said he’d attended Columbia’s
We drove through the crowded center of Tirana, past wild juxtapositions—Mercedes-Benzes and donkey carts, peasants from the mountain Geg tribe wearing traditional conical white hats, women with designer sunglasses and DKNY handbags—and were soon driving north through the Albanian countryside.
I had spent the previous two days rushing around the capital trying to arrange transit to the northern frontier. Tirana was a long day’s journey from Kosovo, but reminders of the war in progress had been everywhere. A huge white banner strung in front of the neoclassical opera house in Skenderbeg Square celebrated “NATO in Kosovo.” At the packed bar of the Rogner Hotel, where
The highway outside Tirana soon narrowed into a ribbon of tarmac clogged with fume-belching trucks and buses. Most of the ugly concrete architecture seemed either half-finished or half-collapsed. And everywhere lay junked automobiles—huge piles of rusted-out carcasses that lined the road and filled yards and vacant lots. But a new touch had been added: A small white
They were almost as ubiquitous as Enver Hoxha’s bunkers: gray domes of poured concrete set on wide circular bases. Each had loops of rusted iron and a slot for a sniper. Solitary mounds poked up here and there among the dilapidated shops and houses on the roadside. Whole legions of them swept in symmetrical rows across hilltops or lay in clumps in the fields. Many had begun to
The Stalinist dictator Enver Hoxha, who ruled from 1945 until his death in 1985, had built hundreds of thousands of these bunkers—perhaps almost a million—as a defense against invasion from his imagined enemies. Hoxha was such a true believer that he broke with the Soviet Union, and then China, accusing each of straying from the practice of pure communism. Growing
As bad as Hoxha was, democracy hasn’t treated Albania much better. Two years ago, just when the country seemed to be staggering to its feet, a nationwide pyramid investment scheme collapsed. The scam had been endorsed by the democratically elected government of President Sali Berisha, who was rumored to have taken campaign funds from its organizers. Tens of thousands of people
At noon we arrived in the industrial town of Lac, once a showcase of the Communist revolution. Now Lac’s huge chemical fertilizer plant, rising above the Drin River, is a decrepit, decaying ruin. Albanian men squatted idly in the mud, staring vacant-eyed at the occasional traffic.
“C’est comme la guerre,” Lahcene observed, shaking his head. Looks like war.
Genc, who was used to the devastation, had his mind on other subjects.
“Do you know Christiane Amanpour?” he interrupted, turning around in his seat.
“A little,” I said, having met the CNN reporter once or twice on the road.
“I’d like to make love to that woman,” Genc announced. “I want to get a blow job from her. That’s all I’ve been able to think about since the war began.”
Just north of Lac, we crossed a steel bridge and began climbing into the Accursed Mountains. The hills became more jagged, the hairpin turns tighter, the road a narrow ledge blasted out of the mountainsides.
It was after six o’clock when we pulled into Kukes, a dreary place perched on a promontory overlooking Lake Fierza and surrounded by basalt crags dappled with thick veins of snow. The city is quite new, having been established in 1976 to replace its classical precursor, Gubuleum, which was drowned by the rising waters of the newly dammed lake. Kukes has the distinction of
It had been raining for days, and the sidewalks and muddy, potholed streets of the town were jammed with Kosovar refugees, more than 300,000 of whom had crossed the nearby border at Morine during the previous ten days. While the Albanian government was trying to keep the masses moving, the majority of the Kosovars were staying put in Kukes.
Genc and I rented an apartment from a friend of Tani’s, on the top floor of a building just behind the Gjalica Hotel, the main lodging spot for the Western press and humanitarian aid agencies. After lugging our stuff up six flights of stairs, I went up to the roof, pointed a small satellite dish to the east, and dangled the connector cable down to Genc, who was leaning out the
The sun was setting. I could hear barking dogs, the wail of a muezzin from the mosque by the lake, the shouts of children, and the vague, distant hubbub of thousands of refugees in the streets. Genc joined me on the roof. “Welcome to Kukes,” he boomed. “The center of the world.”
I would stay in Kukes for the next three and a half weeks, documenting refugees’ accounts of the brutal “ethnic cleansing” of Kosovo carried out by Serb soldiers, police, and paramilitary forces in the midst of NATO’s bombing campaign. In the mid-1990s I had spent four years as a Newsweek Africa correspondent, covering the famine and carnage in
The Yugoslav border lies 45 minutes north of Kukes. A cluster of reporters and photographers (“hacks,” as the corps calls its members) were milling around the Albanian immigration post when Genc and I arrived. I recognized a British cameraman I had known in Nairobi—many members of the African press corps had relocated to the Balkans—and he beckoned me to him,
Later that morning, I joined a group of spectators watching NATO planes bombing Serb positions just inside Kosovo. Two aircraft circled high over the rugged terrain and then spat out bright orange flares that streaked across the sky.
“Warthogs—tank killers,” said a British reporter standing next to me. “You can tell by the wingspan. Ugly plane. Those streaks of light are flares, to attract heat-seeking missiles. See how low it’s flying? It’s a bloody effective machine.” Suddenly, the Warthogs dove toward their targets in the village of Zur, just out of sight beyond the hills. The booming explosions
Because we had one of the few satellite telephones in Kukes, a steady stream of hacks made their way upstairs, begging for permission to call their wives, girlfriends, desks, photo agencies. Sometimes we would oblige them. Those calls served as reminders of the world’s fickle interest in the Kosovo crisis. Brian, the Canadian photographer who had bummed a lift to Kukes, was a
“I didn’t sound too hostile just now, did I?” he asked.
Later that afternoon Ron and Wade, two newsweek contract photographers, turned up back at the apartment after a two-day trip to Albania’s northwest frontier. After the BBC had reported that Yugoslav forces had crossed the border in pursuit of the KLA, burning down a customs post and destroying several houses, Ron and Wade had joined a stampede of
“We just lost everything,” Ron announced. “Four gunmen ambushed us on the road just outside Bajram.”
Wade plunked down on his army cot. For the past seven years he had lived in Zagreb, Croatia, which had served as his base for covering the disintegration of Yugoslavia. He’d worked in Vukovar, Sarajevo, and Dubrovnik, where he’d seen death and atrocities countless times. Now he was visibly shaking. “It’s fucking Blade Runner up there,” he said. “We
“The Beeb and APTV got robbed just before we did,” Ron said. “Lost their car, their satphones, their TV cameras, their dish—$200,000 worth of equipment. Their bodyguard sat there watching. Then he pointed his AK at the Beeb correspondent’s head and demanded his money for saving his life.”
“Any chance they’ll recover the gear?” I asked.
“The Bajram Curri police are negotiating for them,” Ron said. “The asking price is $18,000.”
Suddenly Wade jumped up and walked to the window. “Here’s something you don’t have to worry about doing in Albania,” he yelled, dumping the contents of a large bag of trash—orange peels, soda cans, empty film canisters—out the window and into the bushes six stories below. “Whole fucking country is one big garbage dump.”
The ambush robberies in Bajram Curri only briefly stemmed the journalists’ rush to the border. The KLA’s battle against the Serbs in the mountains along the Albania-Kosovo border was a sideshow of the larger war, but it loomed huge in the imaginations of the press corps. The KLA made great copy, but the guerrillas didn’t seem to know how to capitalize on the press’s sympathy.
One day Marie Colvin, an American reporter for the Sunday Times of London, returned from Bajram Curri after accomplishing what every other hack in town dreamed of doing: She had crossed into Kosovo with the KLA. In the evening I found her sitting on the terrace of the Bar Amerika, tapping at her laptop in the fading light, the glow of the screen
“I just spent three days inside,” she confirmed, puffing on a cigarette. Like nearly everyone else in Kukes she was a chain smoker. “It was like World War I up there—guys huddled in trenches, heading out over the top, and coming back shot to pieces.
“Here’s what you wanna do,” she continued. “You get yourself a car with BC license plates, OK?”
“BC?” I asked.
“Bajram Curri,” she said impatiently. “Cars with Kukes plates, Tirana plates—forget about it. They mark you as an outsider the second you pull into town. But they won’t touch a car with BC plates. It means the driver comes from the area. Stealing his car will provoke a blood feud.”
Marie’s advice set off two days of futile searching for a car with BC plates. Then I got a lucky break. An old journalist friend of mine showed up in town with a Kosovar-American moneyman she had recruited in New York. They were heading up to the front lines north of Bajram Curri and agreed to let me and Ron, the Newsweek photographer, tag along.
Bulldozer was a tall, thickly muscled guy with short, brown, curly hair. He spoke almost no English, had a sweet manner, and was an accomplished killer. In recent months he had served as the commander of a KLA unit in Vranoc, near the town of Pec in western Kosovo. Before joining the fighting, Bulldozer had delivered arms to the guerrillas all over the region using a cement
We met Bulldozer at a corner table in the bar at the Gjalica, and I mentioned the previous carjackings and thefts.
“Don’t worry,” he declared, stubbing out a Dunhill. “They’re not going to fuck with the KLA.”
The road from Kukes to Bajram Curri climbs steeply above Lake Fierza and then snakes northwest through empty hills covered in dark, thorny scrub. The land is nearly devoid of human settlement—the most destitute and neglected corner of the poorest nation in Europe.
We were traveling in two vehicles. In front, in a rented Jeep Cherokee with Bulldozer at the wheel, were the KLA financier, two American magazine reporters, and a cameraman for Geraldo Rivera’s cable-television talk show. Ron and I were riding just behind their vehicle in another Jeep driven by Jonathan Landay, a reporter for the Christian Science
After a four-hour drive, we descended from the mountains into Bajram Curri, crossing the turquoise river on an old Ottoman bridge and passing a modern mosque and crumbling stone-walled compounds. The town was unnervingly quiet as we pulled into the driveway of the mustard-colored, concrete-slab Ermat Hotel, Bajram Curri’s finest.
The hotel manager was asleep behind his desk, grizzled head resting on a dusty ledger book. As we stood there, a dozen Kosovar refugees straggled in, men with exhausted, slack faces, their clothing peppered with burrs and stained with mud. They had just crossed the mountains from their hometown of Djakovica, they said, threading their way past the dug-in Yugoslav Army, skirting
In the hotel restaurant a handful of Albanian soldiers sipped raki, a clear liquor distilled from grapes. They were served by a young waiter with a .45 pistol stuck in his belt. Across the room sat a trio of Danish NATO Rangers in camouflage fatigues. They had piercing blue eyes and cropped blond hair, and they scowled at us as we walked into the room.
“Have you been in Bajram Curri long?” Jonathan asked them.
A Danish lieutenant with cadaverous features grunted a response.
“What are you guys doing?”
“Humanitarian aid,” the lieutenant said, and then he turned back to his moussaka and German beer.
Word had apparently gotten out the moment our two Jeeps pulled into the hotel driveway: new foreigners in town. It filtered through the police headquarters across the street and then spread by walkie-talkie to the bars and pool halls where the mafiosi congregated. Within minutes a parade of souped-up white Mercedes sedans, Jeeps, Mitsubishi Pajeros, and Nissan Patrols began to
Sporadic gunfire rang out from the nearby hills. At Bajram Curri’s hospital, just down the road from the Ermat Hotel, the latest casualties from the KLA’s ongoing assault against the Serbs were recuperating. Just as we were going in to interview the wounded guerrillas, a car engine revved outside and we turned around in time to see our Jeep speeding past the hospital with a
Back in our sanctuary at the Ermat a half hour later, Geraldo Rivera’s cameraman paced his third-floor balcony. He was frantic. The Jeep Cherokee had been rented in Tirana under his name, and now, for all he knew, it was heading to Montenegro, along with a new laptop and a $3,000 satellite telephone in the backseat.
Several Danish Rangers were relaxing on the adjacent balcony, cleaning their guns and taking in the scene.
“When did you arrive in town?” one of them asked.
“Two hours ago,” the cameraman replied.
“Two hours?” said one of the Danes. “The new record.”
Djordan, our local interpreter, was optimistic that we’d get the car back.The thieves had made a mistake by stealing from Bulldozer, a KLA guerrilla, he assured us. Fatmir Haklaj, Bajram Curri’s 30-year-old chief of police, would see to it that these freelance thieves were tracked down and punished.
“Somebody’s going to die today,” Geraldo’s cameraman said, watching from the balcony. He sounded pleased at the prospect. Down below, Fatmir Haklaj’s boys were driving up and down the streets, racing past the ruined city museum, fanning out across Bajram Curri and into the surrounding countryside. At the KLA’s insistence, Haklaj had sent word to his minions to capture the car
A few minutes later, the word spread through the hotel: “They’ve got the car.”
As soon as we got downstairs, the Jeep pulled into the parking lot, followed by a six-car escort. A half-dozen young men leapt triumphantly from the vehicles and strutted around the Cherokee. They carried Kalashnikov assault rifles and wore olive-drab gun belts across their chests. A few minutes later a white Mercedes pulled up, and the driver’s door and one of the backseat
“The chief says that he apologizes for the misunderstanding,” Djordan said, translating. “He says that your satellite telephone and computers will be brought back shortly.”
Geraldo’s cameraman was trembling with relief. “Tell the chief thank you for his help.”
Haklaj nodded and mumbled a few words.
“The chief says this is his job.”
“What will happen to the thieves?” I asked Djordan.
“They may be executed tonight,” Djordan replied with a shrug. “Or they may be set free. In Bajram Curri, nobody ever knows.”
Ron had been staring at one of Haklaj’s escort vehicles, a gray 1998 Nissan Patrol with tinted windows and a dent on the right rear door. “I think that’s ours,” he said. Wisely, he didn’t press the point.
With bulldozer once again driving the lead Jeep, we left at dawn the next morning for the border and a Yugoslav Army barracks just inside Kosovo that had been overrun by the rebels. About 500 KLA guerrillas were now using the base as a staging ground for forays deeper into the province. The commander of the KLA’s southwest zone in Kosovo, along with a large contingent of KLA
We climbed to the top of a ridge and found ourselves on a treeless plateau, flat as a soccer field. The road was a sea of reddish clay. In the distance, across another depopulated valley, lay Kosovo. Three metal watchtowers stood perched atop the far ridgeline—Serb positions. The Yugoslav Army frequently lobbed artillery shells at traffic passing across this plateau, but
Soon we were in a high alpine landscape of pale green hills. Almond trees were in blossom, their white petals sending a sweet fragrance into the mountain air. Only the occasional crash of nearby mortar rounds and the crackle of sniper fire marred what could have been one of the most splendid hiking paths on Earth.
At Padesh, the last Albanian outpost before Kosare, we pulled up in front of a roofless farmhouse that had taken a direct hit by Serb artillery. A KLA lieutenant came over and offered to show us the aftermath of battle: bomb craters as big as fishponds, houses with obliterated walls. The lieutenant, formerly an architecture student in Paris, also displayed two military trucks
A 45-minute hike brought us to the top of the ridge: the border between Albania and Kosovo. Beyond the ridge lay a wide, forested valley framed by steep limestone cliffs and rounded hills. Occasional rifle fire echoed off the canyon walls.
Down in the valley, smoke rose from a chimney in the barracks at Kosare. The main force of KLA soldiers was massing there, preparing to advance. As we got ready to climb down to join them, we were suddenly confronted by a KLA officer—an American-educated Kosovar doctor. He had heard we were approaching, so he radioed ahead for instructions.
“The commander says you can go no farther,” he told us. “He doesn’t want journalists around. It is still too dangerous. Maybe in a week you can come back.”
The officer ignored our appeals and sternly ordered us to return to Albania. We trudged unhappily back to Padesh, climbed into the Jeeps, and headed back down the road. A heavy downpour had begun, and by the time we made it to the open ground in front of the Serb watchtowers the rain had turned the track into an impassable bog, a viscous ocean of mud. Soon our forlorn convoy of
“We push,” Bulldozer said.
Out in the open, up to our knees in the muck, we rocked the vehicles back and forth in plain view of the Yugoslav Army. We were eight human targets directly in the sights of heavy artillery, slipping, sliding, falling on our asses in the mud, and then starting the whole process again—and again. Inexplicably, the guns remained silent.
The misadventure with the kla had distracted us briefly from the far more significant story: the unfolding nightmare inside Kosovo. Back in Kukes the next day, a human-rights investigator led me to an ethnic Albanian who claimed that he had survived a massacre. He was Yusuf Zhuniqi, a slight, leathery-faced man with his right arm in a sling and his head wrapped in gauze
Late that night, Zhuniqi told me, he returned with some other local men and buried the corpses in a shallow grave beside the Bellaj stream by moonlight. “If you go to Kosovo, you will find it,” he said.
The road into town, once choked with refugees, was now nearly empty. Everybody was waiting to cross into Kosovo. Word had quickly spread through the ranks of the press that a German NATO brigade was heading to Kukes from Tirana to spearhead the occupation of southern Kosovo. Most hacks were going in with British and Americans from Macedonia, but the Albanian operation seemed to
Two German military press attachés showed up at the Bar Amerika at six that evening to hand out credentials to a mob of anxious journalists. Out on the terrace, the disk jockey got on the PA system. “Good evening, folks. This is Radio Bar Amerika,” he said, “wishing the NATO troops in Kosovo a safe and successful mission.”
Having obtained credentials, reporters began scrambling to find rides into Kosovo—or to sell spaces in their cars. “I’ve three seats left in my minivan,” announced Christian, a former French Legionnaire who had covered the massacres in Burundi and Rwanda for a wire service. “They’re going for $120 apiece.”
Wade, the photographer, and I had rented a white Mercedes.
“You guys ready for the big camping trip?” a female radio journalist asked Wade.
“It’s gonna be a party,” he said.
“Yeah, but this one is strictly BYOB.”
Early the next morning, Albanians and Kosovars gathered five deep along the elm-shaded road leading to the border to cheer the NATO force. Eight hundred troops of the German Einsatz Brigade had bivouacked in a field six miles outside Kukes and their 200 vehicles were expected to roll through the center of town at 7 a.m. Wade and I were parked by the side of the road, waiting to
By ten there was still no sign of the Germans. It began to get hot, but the crowd remained in a good mood. Soldiers from the United Arab Emirates—handsome, bearded men wearing red berets and khaki fatigues—kept order.
A little before noon, we couldn’t bear the wait any longer. “Let’s get the hell up to the border,” Wade said. We jumped into the car and sped off. We had almost reached the border when the wailing of a siren came up behind us. Led by a police motorcycle escort, three German armored personnel carriers rumbled by—the vanguard of the Einsatz Brigade. We followed right
At the border a huge crowd of Kosovars watched from behind a cordon of Albanian police as the APCs rolled through the gate and across the bridge, halting just inside Kosovo. Wade and I jumped out of the Mercedes. Dozens of Kosovar refugees scrambled over an adjacent hill and down onto the bridge. Only a week earlier a Chilean TV journalist had been shot and killed by a Serb
We ran right behind him. The crowd surged across the bridge and swarmed around the blackened crater marking the spot where the Serb mine had exploded two months before. Tattered, blood-stained pieces of clothing still lay plastered to the ground beside it. Jubilantly cursing the Serbs, the crowd pushed inside the Yugoslav customs shed. Two men found a black uniform and set it
Visar had maneuvered the Mercedes before the now-closed border gate. An Albanian policeman refused to let him join us, but a German captain walked over and intervened. “No, no, no,” he barked. “Let the press through.” Moments later, to the cheers of the crowd, Visar rolled into Kosovo.
“Stay on the tarmac,” Wade warned Visar. “Drive in the middle of the road. Don’t hit any potholes or anything on the road. Don’t go off the asphalt.”
Just beyond the heavily damaged village of Zur we came upon a parked truck filled with blue-uniformed soldiers.
“Germans?” I asked Wade.
“VJ,” he said—the Yugoslav Army.
In the back of the truck, soldiers reclined on piles of olive-drab duffel bags. A bearded soldier stroked a panting German shepherd. Wade and I got out and approached, smiling. Wade tried to chat them up in Serbo-Croatian.
“Fuck off,” one of the Serbs told him.
We drove away hurriedly, but we soon came upon more Serbs, hundreds more, lined up along both sides of the roads. Buses, trucks, sedans were filled with troops, and many infantrymen were sitting or standing in front of the vehicles. They pressed in on the Mercedes as we drove slowly past them, a gauntlet of defiant figures flashing the three-fingered Serb sign for victory and
The German Army was to occupy Prizren, an old Ottoman town 25 miles north of the border. Wade and I arrived just as the first APCs rolled into Prizren’s main square. After 80 days spent hiding from Serb police and soldiers, all the ethnic Albanians left in town had poured into the streets to celebrate. They swarmed over the APCs and showered the German troops with pink roses
When several Serb military buses pushed through the crowds to leave town, some people pelted them with rocks and shattered their windows. Several of the Serbs flashed their middle fingers at the jeering mob. Later, I watched a small contingent of Serbs try to pass on foot. A fight broke out; shots were fired in the air, and everyone dove for cover. NATO troops eventually pushed
The next day, the KLA showed up: two dozen guerrillas in mismatched uniforms strutted along through the outskirts of town, accepting glasses of yogurt and basking in the congratulations offered by the citizens of Prizren. Some of the guerrillas were recruits who had arrived on the same ferry, La Vikinga, that had transported me to Albania from
As the jubilation died down in Prizren, we decided to drive with Visar to his hometown of Peja, which had experienced some of the worst ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. Italian NATO troops had opened the road only 24 hours earlier, but Visar was desperate to see which of his friends had survived the war. As black clouds swept across the afternoon sky, we drove through the blackened
Peja was different. It was a ghost town. Eighty thousand ethnic Albanians had lived here before the war; now, we soon discovered, only 83 families remained.
“Fuck NATO. This place is mine,” read spray-painted Cyrillic graffiti on a concrete wall. Visar’s house was a three-story white stucco building that had been torched by the Serbs in late March, three days after he had escaped to Montenegro, and his parents had fled to Albania. We stepped over the rubble of burned bricks, roofing tiles, and half-melted shards of glass. Water
Up and down the street, people emerged from their ruined homes. A handful walked tentatively toward us, around downed power lines, and told us to stay away from a white Renault parked nearby. It was booby-trapped, they said. They were pale and seemed wary and bewildered. For two and a half months they had been surrounded by the Serbs. A paramilitary force manned by a cruel
“Visar!” a pale, goateed young man shouted, rushing to embrace him.
“My God! Ram!” Visar cried, hugging him close. “Everyone said you were dead.”
“I felt like I was dead,” Ram said, tears running down his cheeks. He had been on a Serb death list and had been in hiding for 80 days, living in basements, moving about only at night.
Visar spotted a mustachioed man with a large belly. “Isa!” he exclaimed, rushing over to greet him. “You’re alive too!”
“I am alive, but three of my children are dead,” Isar replied.
“Three nights ago, the Serbs came to my home. ‘Is everyone here?’ they asked. Then they opened fire. I jumped out the window with my youngest son. The rest were killed. I took the brain of my 12-year-old daughter off the floor.”
Visar shook his head, distraught, and wandered back to the car.
The road back to prizren was lined with gutted factories and Serb outposts that had been bombed by NATO. Kosovo had once been more affluent and sophisticated than neighboring Albania, with automobile and electronics plants, universities, and a thriving middle class, but the Serbs had destroyed nearly everything.
Now Kosovo was truly in solidarity with Albania: It was mono-ethnic, brutalized, pauperized, spiritually shattered. And no one—not the Kosovars climbing out of their basements, nor the refugees pouring back in tractors from Kukes, nor the KLA—knew where they were heading.
The guerrillas had taken over the abandoned cultural center in Djakovica, and we stopped there on the way back to Prizren to talk to the zone commander. Outside his office, on the second floor, I fell into conversation with a man named Nexhot, a former interpreter for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. He had survived the war by hiding for weeks behind
“We don’t know who we are,” he said, offering me a Monte Carlo cigarette. “We’re not Albania. We’re not Serbia. For the time being, we’re just NATO.”
Just beyond Djakovica lay Bela Crkva, the site of the massacre described to me by Yusuf Zhuniqi in Kukes. A farmer who had survived the Serb onslaught by hiding in a nearby hamlet led Visar and me along the Bellaj stream to the railroad bridge where Zhuniqi said the 50 men and boys had been killed. The path was overgrown with weeds and grass and wildflowers; on either side of
Joshua Hammer is a longtime correspondent for Newsweek and a frequent contributor to Outside.