AT LEAST 2,000 ethnic Albanians from Kosovo remain locked up in Serbian prisons, many of them dragged across the border by retreating Serbian troops. Thousands more remain missing -- whether buried in mass graves or held in Slobodan Milosevic's jails, their relatives do not know. There is hardly a family among ethnic Albanian Kosovars that has not lost a loved one. Survivors, meanwhile, are beginning to rebuild their livelihoods; but it will take years to recover economically from the damage inflicted in a few savage weeks by Serbian troops and paramilitaries.

So it comes as no surprise that reconciliation comes slowly if at all between those returning Kosovars and the ethnic Serbs who remain in Kosovo. Nor is it surprising that most outsiders hesitate to criticize too vociferously those ethnic Albanians who now are guilty of revenge attacks against Serbian neighbors. All the more powerful, therefore, is a condemnation from within the Albanian community. "I know the obvious excuse," writes Veton Surroi, respected leader and editor of an Albanian-language newspaper. "Namely, that we have been through a barbaric war in which Serbs were responsible for the most heinous crimes and in which the intensity of violence has generated a desire for vengeance among many Albanians.

"This, however, is no justification," Mr. Surroi has told his countrymen. "The treatment of Kosovo's Serbs brings shame on all Kosovo Albanians, not just the perpetrators of violence. And it's a burden we will have to bear collectively. It will dishonor us and our own recent suffering. . . ."

Mr. Surroi is more than familiar with that suffering. His newspaper offices were ransacked; he himself lived in hiding and in fear during the war. But he is right to warn against vengeance. It is not just the injustice being done to Serbs who are guilty only by ethnic association, nor just that Kosovars will lose abroad the respect they earned during their decade-long nonviolent struggle against Serbian oppression. Far worse is the damage they will do to their own society if they mimic, in whatever attenuated form, Mr. Milosevic's ways.