Joy is still a precious commodity in Kosovo, six months after NATO troops entered the embattled province and Yugoslavia withdrew its forces. Hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanians driven from the province during the war have returned--many to emotional reunions with family and friends, many others to empty, burned-out homes and graves.
Serbs, who before the war lived side by side with ethnic Albanian families in an uneasy communion, are outcasts, victims of hostility and hatred. Tens of thousands of Serbs have fled Kosovo. The few who remain, many of them elderly, live in fear for their lives.
Between the two communities stand the NATO peacekeepers, more than 6,000 of them American. To the ethnic Albanians, the troops are heroes and liberators. To the Serbs, they are protectors. The troops arrived in Kosovo hoping to build a multi-ethnic, democratic society. Six months on, they use a much smaller yardstick for measuring their success: a reunion of old friends secured, a life saved, a conflict averted. Peace remains elusive, over the horizon.
CAPTION: "Thank God, I'm alive," says Ilir Bajraktari, 17 (center, in uniform), celebrating with friends and relatives after being released from prison in Serbia. Serbian police arrested Bajraktari, a brother and a cousin and took them to a jail where they were beaten and forced to eat cigarettes.
CAPTION: Kosovo Albanians raise 1st Lt. John Marcinek of Webster, N.Y., over their heads during a party to thank American troops stationed in the town of Gnjilane for their help. The party included dancing and singing of American songs.
CAPTION: Qamil Duraku cries as he recalls the deaths of his cousin, Ramadan Duraku, and Ramadan's son, Ajet, 18, in a fire set in the town of Velika Krusa by retreating Serbian soldiers. Scores of ethnic Albanians died at the hands of Serbian soldiers and irregular forces in Velika Krusa in late March.
CAPTION: British soldiers hold ethnic Albanians they found trying to evict Serbs from apartment buildings in Pristina. After returning to burned-out homes in June, some ethnic Albanians tried to take revenge on their former neighbors.