Kosovo: Flight From Pristina -- A Refugee's Story
The individual, whose name is being withheld for security reasons, left Pristina at 8 am with 15 others and three vehicles. The group decided it was better to make a run for the border rather than wait for a knock on the door at any hour.
The group took a different route to reach safety in Skopje, Macedonia, choosing the road from Pristina, north to Podujevo and Nis and then south to Presevo and Skopje. They had heard stories that the direct road from Pristina to Skopje was too dangerous.
The first checkpoint, about 15 kilometers outside of Pristina, was manned by five paramilitaries, who, after threatening them, took one of their cars as payment for allowing them to pass. Sixteen people, between the ages of 65 and a baby just 40 days old, piled into two small cars and continued on their way.
At the second checkpoint, five kilometers away, the group encountered four paramilitaries who carried, besides their guns, large knives in their belts. For three minutes they simply walked around both cars, peering through the windshields and kicking the tires.
A CHILD CRIES
When they finally asked the driver of the first car where they were going, a baby in the back seat started to cry loudly. The paramilitary simply pointed a gun at the baby and mother and told them to shut the child up or he would kill them. The group was then told to empty both cars of all of their belongings in order to proceed down the road.
At the third checkpoint, about 10 kilometers away, they encountered a group of policemen who asked for their identification cards. The policemen then inquired as to how much money they had and our source was forced to hand over 800 German Marks (about $550).
TANKS AND LIQUOR
Another 10 kilometers down the road the group encountered its fourth checkpoint which was manned by a tank and five or six soldiers drinking alcohol. The officer in charge asked for a bottle of water and 2,000 German Marks (about $1,125) in total from the group.
After paying the officer, the group was told they were free to go but that they should give the three-fingered Serbian salute which all members of the group did. The group had to pass three more checkpoints (making seven in all) but the last three allowed them to pass simply because they had nothing left to give.
MINING THE ROADS
Between Bujanovac (south of Nis) and the border, the group saw signs of a military build-up including the planting of mines by police and military who were visible in large numbers.
At the border itself, the group had no problems in passing. There were about 20 vehicles in front of them and Serbian border guards simply stamped their passports and allowed them to pass unhindered.
They crossed into Macedonia - safe for now, but with no money, no possessions, no food, no shelter and an uncertain future.