Zoran Vujovic found his mother's body in her stylish two-bedroom apartment in the Sunny Hill section of Pristina. Her fully dressed corpse lay over the edge of the bathtub, her feet on the ground, her head in the water, where someone had held her until she drowned.
Ljubica Vujovic, 78, was a lifelong resident of Kosovo. She was also a Serb, and in the new Kosovo that is enough to get you killed.
Every day since NATO-led peacekeeping troops assumed authority in this Serbian province, a Serb or Gypsy has been killed, tortured, beaten, kidnapped or threatened, according to tallies by NATO, human rights groups and Serbian officials. Serb- and Gypsy-owned homes have been burned, looted or seized; state-owned or private Serbian businesses have been occupied and their operators expelled; Serbian Orthodox holy places have been bombed or desecrated -- and all the while, more Serbs have fled.
The ideal of a multi-ethnic Kosovo -- a place in which Serbs, ethnic Albanians and Gypsies can live together, an ideal NATO went to war to achieve -- is on the verge of collapse. NATO commanders and U.N. officials here vow to protect members of all communities but acknowledge that thus far they are spread too thin to do so.
"It looks like it's over for the Serbs," said one U.S. official bluntly. "We can talk about peace, love and democracy, but I don't think anyone really knows how to stop this."
The flight of Serbs from Kosovo since the NATO-Yugoslav war ended in early June is beginning to seem irreversible, a development with profound political implications for the U.N.-led effort to create a pluralistic, democratic society here while still respecting the sovereignty of Serb-controlled Yugoslavia. Less than 25 percent of Kosovo's prewar Serbian population of 200,000 remains, and more flee each day. Without Serbs, the drive by the province's ethnic Albanian majority for an independent Kosovo -- an aspiration long resisted by the West -- could become unstoppable, Western officials acknowledge.
Ethnic Albanian leaders, including commanders of the paramilitary Kosovo Liberation Army, have condemned the recent violence and have said publicly that they want the Serbs to remain. But human rights groups charge that while there is no evidence of an organized effort by the KLA to drive out Serbs, some of its units have been implicated in acts of violence against Serbian civilians and Gypsies.
"The most serious incidents of violence . . . have been carried out by members of the KLA," said Human Rights Watch in a report released today. "Although the KLA leadership issued a statement on July 20 condemning attacks on Serbs and [Gypsies], and KLA political leader Hashim Thaqi publicly denounced the July 23 massacre of 14 Serbian farmers, it remains unclear whether these beatings and killings were committed by local KLA units acting without official sanction or whether they represent a coordinated KLA policy. What is indisputable, however, is that the frequency and severity of such abuses make it incumbent upon the KLA leadership to take swift and decisive action to prevent them."
The report noted, for instance, that within days of the entry of NATO troops into Kosovo, uniformed KLA members in the town of Prizren began appearing at the homes of Marica Stamenkovic, 77, and Panta Filipovic, 63, demanding money. On June 21, the throats of both Serbs were slit. An ethnic Albanian later told Filipovic's wife, Maria, that KLA members had carried out the killings, the report said.
At least 200 Kosovo Serbs have been killed or have disappeared in the past eight weeks, according to Western and Serbian officials. "Kosovo is being `ethnically cleansed,' " said Zoran Andjelkovic, who represents the Belgrade government in Kosovo. "And if it happens, this will represent a huge failure for the international community."
In fact, the spiral of oppression is turning. Belgrade's massive military campaign -- launched in late March -- to eradicate KLA guerrilla forces and purge Kosovo of its ethnic Albanian majority is finding a poisonous counterpoint in the wave of terror against Serbs who remain here and Gypsies believed to have played a compliant role in the government offensive.
Ninety percent of the 800,000 ethnic Albanians who fled Kosovo or were expelled by Serb-led Yugoslav forces have returned, many to find their relatives murdered, their businesses and homes gutted, their mosques destroyed. The cycle of brutality and expulsion was quickly reversed.
The Serbian Orthodox Church -- which has condemned the policies of Yugoslav President Slobodon Milosevic as the cause of the war -- has stressed that Serbs guilty of atrocities in Kosovo almost certainly have fled the province and that, overwhelmingly, those being victimized did not take part in any assaults on ethnic Albanians. As the terror mounts, however, the few remaining Serbs and Gypsies live in constant fear, and neither NATO nor the United Nations has been able to reassure them.
"As long as people feel as insecure as they do, it's going to be very difficult to stop them from leaving," said Ron Redmond, a spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.
In the Kosovo capital of Pristina , for instance, the prewar Serbian population of 40,000 has fallen to fewer than 1,000, and homes of Serbs across the city have been commandeered by ethnic Albanians. British troops have positioned themselves inside some apartment buildings that have mostly Serbian residents. But some of the soldiers say they don't know how long the British army, or any other military force, can provide such personal protection. An international police force has yet to make itself felt on the streets, and U.N. officials have complained that promised assistance by donor countries, including experienced police officers, has been slow in arriving.
Meanwhile, Serbs say they cannot shop in local stores in many parts of the province and depend on food deliveries by peacekeeping troops and humanitarian groups. They say they cannot speak Serbian in public without fear of being spat upon, taunted or, in one possible instance, killed. In some places, they cannot even walk the streets, which in the cities of Pristina, Pec and Prizren are teeming with jubilant ethnic Albanians, their celebratory mood contrasting with that of frightened Serbs who nightly barricade themselves in their homes.
In Pristina recently, even Serbs seeking medical care were turned away from the city hospital by a security guard associated with the KLA, according to a report by the Kosovo peacekeeping force. The last Serbian-run business in Pristina, a grocery store near the NATO media center here, closed Saturday after ethnic Albanians told the owner he must leave or be ejected, according to officials with the Serbian Ministry of Trade.
"We are going to have a huge problem with property," said one U.N. official, acknowledging the problem. "Albanians are just taking places and setting up shop."
Across the city, gas stations, restaurants and small businesses once owned by Serbs are in the hands of ethnic Albanians who have refused to discuss how they obtained them. Most Serbian businessmen have fled Kosovo, according to the Ministry of Trade, which is attempting to track the seizure
of Serbian enterprises, according to Peter Djuric, a ministry official here.
Even efforts to forge a new consensus here are faltering. NATO created a series of inter-communal committees to try to rebuild crucial state institutions, providing new opportunities for ethnic Albanians while preserving a Serbian presence. At the state-run electric company branch, for instance, a committee led by an ethnic Albanian, a Serb and a British military officer was formed to supervise operations. According to Serbian officials, the Serb on the committee fled Friday after being followed home from a meeting at the utility's headquarters.
His departure was preceded by the slaying of six Serbian electrical engineers employed by the enterprise. Three weeks ago, engineer Zoran Kontic was found handcuffed and fatally stabbed in his Pristina apartment. A few days later, another engineer, Zivota Januz, was shot and killed, purportedly after he was heard speaking Serbian on the street. The other four were gunned down while traveling together in a village outside Pristina, company officials said.
Before the war, 13,500 people worked at the utility here, 53 percent of them ethnic Albanians, the rest mostly Serbs. Today, 145 Serbian workers and no Serbian managers remain at their jobs, according to officials at the headquarters of the enterprise in Belgrade.
"What's happening is a catastrophe," said a company official, who asked that he not be named because he has relatives in Kosovo. "But it's quite simple. We have a saying: If a hunter sees a line of sparrows on a branch and he shoots one, how many will remain on the branch?"