Peace Accord Greeted With Skepticism
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 4, 1999; Page A30
SKOPJE, Macedonia, June 3 The news spread by loudspeaker at the Stankovic One refugee camp: Peace, maybe, at last. Fifteen thousand of the people who would be most affected by a settlement live here, and when the newscast was finished and the loudspeakers went silent, exactly two of them clapped.
And that was only when the newscaster mentioned a report that as many as 5,000 Serbian troops have been killed in the war so far.
As for the rest of the news, the big news, it caused no celebrations, no cheers, "no spontaneous eruptions of joy so far," said Paula Ghedini, spokeswoman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. She was 18-year-old refugee at Stankovic One camp describing the reaction not only at Stankovic One, but also at the other refugee camps in Macedonia, where 100,000 people have been waiting for the moment they can return home.
"Skeptical optimism," is how Ghedini described the mood in the camps tonight, while Limi Gutag, an 18-year-old refugee who was one of the two people clapping, said the lack of emotion was because of disbelief.
"Maybe 15 times or 100 times in the past, Milosevic has said, 'I'm for peace,' but at the same time he continued to massacre people," said Gutag.
"The news is sensational, but it's the same parliament that made us escape from our homes in the first place," said Mexhid Havolli, 33, of the Kosovo capital of Pristina, referring to the Serbian legislature, which accepted the accord today.
"If this were a real agreement, I'd sing and dance all night," said Naim Haziri, 22, of Presevo, who was doing neither.
"What's to celebrate?" asked 18-year-old refugee Enis Hida.
Some refugees said that as much as they want to go back, they won't believe a settlement is real until NATO troops are in place.
"We can see peace only when we can see NATO ground troops," said Isa Govori, 29, of Pristina.
Others said it would take more than that.
"Smack him down, Milosevic, or kill him," said Fatmir Haliti, 24, of Gnjilane. "Then all the people of the Balkans will believe."
Others worried about what will be waiting for them when they do return, listing everything from land mines to a failed economy to "bandits and gangsters" to Serb soldiers who might not abide by any agreement.
"Kosovo, it's all destroyed now," Gutag said, suggesting it would be several months before the refugees can return.
Knowing that others will want to go sooner, Ghedini said plans have been formulated not only to help the refugees resettle, but also to keep them from leaving the camps too soon. "We obviously will not prevent anyone from going back," she said, but at the same time refugees will be told of the conditions that could make staying in the refugee camps a little longer preferable to hurrying home.
On the other hand, she said, there are no plans to keep refugees from celebrating in the camps once it is clear that Serbia has accepted NATO's basic terms. "I don't think we'll have riots because of joy," she said.
Certainly not tonight, which, after the newscast ended, seemed like any other night. People played basketball, washed dishes, made coffee, smoked cigarettes or strolled. Over by the bulletin board, people were crowding around the list of families that will be leaving for other countries in the days ahead on humanitarian evacuation flights, which, for the time being anyway, will continue. And when the sound of a jet came from high overhead, no one even bothered to look up.
Maybe a settlement will put NATO forces on the ground in the days to come, but tonight, high above a disbelieving refugee camp, they were in the air as usual.
© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company