© 1999 Global Beat Syndicate. All Rights Reserved.

The Granny Killers
By Laura Rozen*
August 18, 1999

PRISTINA, Kosovo -- My neighbor is an elderly Serb widow named Miljka. I don't see much of her these days. She lives in terror, barricaded inside her apartment with the wooden window shutters closed despite the stifling heat.

Miljka is one of an estimated 2,000 Serbs, out of a pre-war population of about 27,000, who have remained in Pristina. Most are elderly women. And they are murder targets

The UN refugee agency reported nine murders and seven serious assaults against Serbs in Pristina in one week. An 80-year-old Serb woman was recently found drowned in her bathtub.

Murders like these have prompted British troops in Pristina to launch what they call a "granny patrol".

The troops now patrol the streets on foot several times a day. Tanks and jeeps belonging to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe rattle down the streets. Helicopters circle overhead a few times at night. But this show of force hasn't been enough to prevented some from breaking into apartments and killing the old ladies.

Recently, a Albanian family, displaced by the war, broke into our ethnically mixed apartment building in broad daylight. When confronted, the head of this household, an aggressive, sweating man shot back, "What am I supposed to do? Our house in Djakovica is destroyed. We have nothing."

He then proceeded up the stairs, along with a dozen members of his extended family, slipped a screw driver between the door and the door frame, forced open the door of an apartment and moved in.

"Call the police, call the police," Miljka whispered to her neighbors as she watched the scene. But no one came.

It's only now -- more than two months after the end of the war and the exodus of more than 90 percent of the city's Serbian population -- that the UN has deployed the first 30 international police officers to patrol Pristina. It promises to set up a few 24-hour police stations in a few areas identified as hot spots.

At first, when the bombing stopped, Miljka would invite guests into her apartment for coffee, proudly displaying photos of her children, grandchildren and late husband, even offering an occasional piece of cake. She made a point of leaving her apartment to lock the building's front door.

Now, she's too afraid to venture out even to buy bread. When she appears, she speaks only in a whisper, with one hand held to the side of her mouth to conceal that she's speaking Serbian. Her only hope is that one of her two adult children will come back from Serbia and take her home with them.

Laura Rozen is a writer for the Institute for War & Peace Reporting, a London-based Institute for War & Peace Reporting, an independent non-profit organization supporting regional media.

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© 1999 New York University. All Rights Reserved. The Global Beat Syndicate, a service of New York University's Center for War, Peace, and the News Media, provides editors with commentary and perspective articles on critical global issues from contributors around the world. For more information, check out http://www.nyu.edu/globalbeat/syndicate/.

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