The Serbian quarter, an assemblage of stone and slate in the highest reaches of this mountainside town, is almost a tower. And 3,000 Serbs are trapped in it. What confines them, they say, is the ethnic Albanian population waiting in the main part of town below to avenge brutalities from the Kosovo war.

NATO peacekeeping troops stationed here say they are prepared to escort the embattled Serbs out of Kosovo to other parts of Serbia, but on one condition: On the way, sentries will screen them for the war crimes suspects believed to be hiding among them.

"We've told them they can go," said Maj. Marcel Van Weerd, chief of staff of the Royal Dutch Army contingent that patrols Orahovac along with the Germans. "We'll escort them. The only thing is they will have to walk by a checkpoint where we will be waiting with a list and photos of people accused of war crimes."

At that point, the negotiations invariably break down. The standoff has been going on for two weeks.

"So this is a very awkward situation," said Dutch Capt. Michael G. Bos.

The standoff encapsulates the competing tensions in postwar Kosovo: tensions between security and justice, between history and future, and, inevitably, between neighbors -- those who come from the overwhelming ethnic Albanian majority and those who come from the Serb minority that ran this province until its rule was broken by the 78-day NATO bombing campaign.

Serbs interviewed on the steep, winding streets of their enclave insist there are no criminals among them. "They have all gone," said Zvezdan Mojsic, 25. "The ones who were standing with the trigger in the hand, they are all gone."

"That's for sure," said Andelko Kolsanic, a former mayor who is leading negotiations with NATO officers. "I don't believe those kind of people are around here."

But ethnic Albanians claim to have seen at least one. Still at home, several residents from the Albanian town below said, is a physician named Veki Simic. The rebel Kosovo Liberation Army claims he carried out massacres in Djakovica, a savaged city 12 miles west of here.

Ethnic Albanians said they have also seen the family members of a notorious figure known as "Dinca the Postman." The KLA has circulated a photo of him at an utterly devastated village called Krusha Mahde, where the secessionist group says he killed 126 people.

"He's hidden here somewhere," said an Albanian resident, who asked not to be named.

NATO officials will not specify the individuals they want to apprehend, although Dutch sentries posted at the bottom of the Serbian quarter volunteered that handouts issued to them listing names and photos also include ethnic Albanians accused of war crimes.

The sentries, stationed in tanks and armored personnel carriers, also keep an eye out for Albanians who burned and looted Serbian homes and abducted as many as 15 people in the days after defeated Yugoslav forces pulled out of Kosovo but before NATO troops could take control.

Those troubles continue. A grenade thrown through the window of a Serb's house before dawn today sprayed shrapnel around the room where Slavko Simic's 60-year-old mother was sleeping. A second grenade landed in the upstairs bedroom where his two nieces, Dragna, 6, and Tiana, 8, were asleep. It failed to go off.

Their father, Nenad Simic, 39, said he moved the family into his brother's house in the Serbian quarter when Albanians began their rampage because his own house lies in a predominantly Albanian neighborhood.

During a previous Serbian crackdown against the rebel movement and its supporters, Simic said, he helped protect his ethnic Albanian neighbors from marauding paramilitaries. "We guarded Albanian homes last June, and they were all saved. Nobody could torch them," Simic said. He did not discuss what he did during the recent war.

An Albanian neighbor, Humdine Dina, confirmed his account of what went on last June. "He did do that," she said, standing in the shadow of the Serbian home that looms above her own near the border between Orahovac's Serb and Albanian quarters.

She said Simic and the other Serbs dare venture only a few yards farther, to a cross street that defines the outer limits of their world.

Back in the besieged Serbian neighborhood, Bozana Dedic, 60, complained, "We are in a ghetto." She joined a sidewalk interview with Ivica Majmarvic, who was relating how his father, Gradimir, 54, wasabducted with another man while venturing out of the Serb neighborhood to feed cattle 10 days ago.

"They hijacked my son too," Dedic said. "It's a big irony, because when he was a child he had more Albanian friends than Serbs. Today it'll be two weeks. We suppose they are holding him somewhere," she said, referring to the KLA, "because they said they were taking him for interrogation."

Why is it happening?

"I hope the Serbs around us don't mind me saying this," Dedic replied, holding tight to the hand of her husband. "But a lot of violence was going on from the paramilitary and the [Yugoslav army]. Andthe victims were ordinary people, meaning innocent."

And now, say the Serbs who show their faces, they are victims as well. None of a dozen people interviewed here said they knew of NATO's offer of a mass escort or of its insistence on a checkpoint to screen for suspected war criminals.

"None is here that we know of, because people like that run away," Dedic said. "The ones who are guilty should pay for that, and not ask us to suffer."