Body Bag No. 4 had a rectangular plastic window near the top. Through it, I could see a child’s head, turned a little to the right, mouth slightly open.
For some reason, when I saw the Kosovo Albanian boy’s corpse on the floor of a morgue here, I thought of a space traveler, asleep in suspended animation, waiting to awake in a new world.
His lips were pressed against the window, which looked fogged, as if he were still breathing. I imagined his mind somewhere far away, carried off in a dream.
But his eyes were still, charred black by the inferno that had raged through the dirt lot where hundreds of refugees were camped when NATO bombed the village of Korisa on May 14.
I’d spent weeks looking at so many corpses like his and living with fear; now, for a few seconds, I just wanted him to be alive, to keep breathing long enough to see the end of a war that had made less sense than even his own senseless death.
As the only North American reporter in Kosovo for most of NATO’s 78 days of airstrikes, I lived through a three-way war that, as most conflicts do, took truth as its first victim. At war’s end, when I had expected to celebrate my own survival, I only felt more empty. Many of the answers I needed so badly--if only for the sake of justice and my own sanity--were obscured by the fog of war. I could find no heroes.
NATO called its devastating air war against Yugoslavia a “humanitarian intervention,” a historic battle between good and evil to stop “ethnic cleansing” and return Kosovo Albanians to their homes. But from inside Kosovo, it rarely looked so pure and simple. It seemed more like calling in a plumber to fix a leak and watching him flood the house.
Many among Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian majority said they were willing to suffer Serbian reprisals if NATO bombed, as long as the alliance finished the job.
Just hours before the first explosion shook Pristina, the provincial capital, about 8 p.m. March 24, a senior aide to Ibrahim Rugova, once Kosovo’s most revered ethnic Albanian leader, suggested that Serbian threats of mutilations and other reprisals might just be propaganda. In any case, he was certain that it didn’t matter to those who might suffer.
“Now they feel that the moment they will be free is very near,” Xhemail Mustafa, Rugova’s spokesman, told me. “And they know they must pay a price to be free.”
And so they would.
Media Told to Leave
The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia lists seven alleged massacres in its May 24 indictment against Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and four of his top officials and commanders. Six of those are said to have occurred after NATO began bombing.
Whether or not there was a grand plan behind the mass deportations and atrocities carried out against ethnic Albanians after the bombing started, Milosevic chose his opening target carefully. Foreign journalists were the first ordered out, probably to get rid of any witnesses.
I left Kosovo in an armored Land Rover in a column of expelled journalists that crossed into Macedonia the night of March 25. The next morning, taking advantage of conflicting signals from authorities about whether the expulsions remained valid, I drove back alone.
The few colleagues who knew what I was doing said I was insane. My wife understood that I had to go back. So I went.
It would probably take a psychiatrist to really understand why I felt compelled to return and offer Serbs an easy target for revenge against Westerners, but everyone has his own ghosts.
I wanted to know what was happening in Kosovo, even though I knew from experience that getting close enough to see a war doesn’t mean that you will know the truth of it.
While covering more than a dozen wars and uprisings in countries like Somalia, Rwanda, Afghanistan, Iraq and Indonesia, I developed a sort of war mantra to help ease the panic.
“Your fear is what they want,” I keep repeating in my mind. “Do not give it to them.”
I have said those words many times to myself in Kosovo, during the threats, the shelling and shooting, the bombing--and while looking into the cold eyes of the dead.
I saw my first scene of mass murder in Kosovo on Jan. 15--more than two months before the bombing started--in the village of Racak. Of the 40 corpses, one was of a 12-year-old boy. Most of the bodies didn’t appear to have any wounds below the head, so it looked as if they had been executed. It was the first massacre for which Milosevic faces war crimes charges.
A couple of days later, I found a survivor hiding with dozens of others in a cave. The angry man told me that he had given up waiting for NATO to deliver on its repeated threats to bomb.
Having seen his dead relatives and neighbors in Racak, I thought that he was right to despise NATO for failing to intervene sooner. But the Racak massacre did steel the United States for action.
Once NATO did act, I wasn’t so sure.
The boy in Body Bag No. 4 was one of about 400 Kosovo Albanians whom the Serbs had allowed to camp for the night on their way home after a month of hiding in the forest.
Around midnight, while many of the refugees were asleep on straw, or on thin mattresses spread in tractor wagons, or on the ground, the camp took several direct hits from laser-guided bombs. More than 80 people died.
The explosions blew some of the refugees’ tractors and wagons to pieces and set fires so intense that scores of hungry and frightened villagers were reduced to scorched bits of bone and gray ash.
I saw dozens more victims in Prizren’s small morgue, most of them uncovered and lying on their backs. Several were children with horrible burns and gaping shrapnel wounds. The stench made me gag.
NATO later said that it had dropped bombs on a military command center in Korisa and added the alliance’s standard disclaimer that it regretted any civilian casualties.
As he often did during his daily media briefings at NATO headquarters in Brussels, alliance spokesman Jamie Shea put the blame on the Serbs. This time, he insisted that the Serbs had used the ethnic Albanians as human shields.
Even in Kosovo, I couldn’t escape the sound of Shea’s voice on satellite TV. It haunted me at the strangest times, denying things that I knew to be true, insisting on others that I had seen were false.
I could be showering with a one-liter bottle of water because NATO had bombed the pumping station, or trying to read my notes by the blue light of my laptop computer in a blackout, and I would hear Shea’s Cockney accent.
The bombing replaced stereotypes with a more confounding reality: constant fear of my own country and its allies, and festering doubts about their claim to the moral high ground.
It makes no difference that the bombs and the planes and pilots are from your own country when it is dark and you are lying in bed under a canopy of jet noise, tense and waiting for the sudden howling that says the blast will come in seconds and be close.
Under constant bombing of roads, bridges and civilian buildings, you can never know when you are safe--because you never are. The fear is always with you.
Bombing can create rage, and when you cannot reach the people doing it from 15,000 feet, you must find other ways to deal with it. My way was to bury myself in my work--a catharsis that harmed no one. But others, perhaps with hate already in their hearts, chose the revenge of setting fires, raping or murdering.
Once NATO added its air war on top of Kosovo’s civil war, the Serbs retaliated against the closest, and most defenseless, target: the same ethnic Albanians NATO had come to save.
At first, there was no panicked exodus from Pristina’s ethnic Albanian neighborhoods, even though Serbian death squads wasted no time trying to provoke one.
Five Serbian policemen put out the message that no one was safe, seizing the leading ethnic Albanian human rights lawyer, Bajram Kelmendi, 62, and his two sons, ages 16 and 31, and shooting all three.
After failing to blow up the Kelmendis’ house with a bomb placed under the front step, the police led the lawyer and his sons from their home shortly before 1 a.m. March 25, just a few hours after the bombing had started. Then they murdered them and dumped their bodies at the roadside in Kosovo Polje, a suburb of Pristina.
An accomplished lawyer herself, Bajram Kelmendi’s widow, Hekibe, knew that there was no case without solid evidence, so as she spoke in a sitting room full of about 20 mourning women two days later, she gave damning testimony: She had seen the murderers’ faces and would know them for certain if she lived to see them again. They had already taunted her by driving by the house in the car they stole from her son.
On the night of the abductions, as she lay face down on the floor with a police rifle aimed at her head, Hekibe heard one of the Serbs ask on his radio if he should bring her along too.
“Leave her behind,” the voice crackled back over a walkie-talkie. “We don’t need her.”
Several days later, the campaign of terror took another sinister twist in what was probably my most painful moment in the war. From my fourth-floor hotel room, I heard a man’s voice shouting from the street below. I looked down on thousands of people being force-marched by Yugoslav troops through the city to the railway station, where they were packed into rail cars and deported to Macedonia.
I ran down eight flights of stairs and out the lobby door. I stood in shock as a long column of ethnic Albanians about 15 people across--maybe 7,000 in all--moved silently past.
The first person I spoke to, a man walking with his wife and two children, said in broken English that police had ordered them all to leave.
I was watching a crime, and there was nothing I could do to stop it.
A Colleague’s Courage
Without a courageous Kosovo Albanian journalist who worked secretly as my translator, I never would have found Hekibe Kelmendi or been able to report what she knew about Pristina’s death squads.
The journalist’s name is Emina Berisha, and I have never met a journalist with as much quiet strength as she showed staring into the jaws of the lion.
She was only one among several people, Serbs and ethnic Albanians alike, who helped me survive and work. She, too, fell victim to the Serbs’ mass expulsion of Kosovo Albanians.
When we left the Kelmendis’ house, Berisha was the only woman on the street, and she headed in one direction, back into her ethnic Albanian neighborhood. I went the other way, toward the Serbian-controlled city center.
I was told that the police had the Kelmendi home under surveillance, if only to track the numerous ethnic Albanian leaders who would come out of hiding to pay their last respects.
I wasn’t sure if I would see Berisha again, or whether I would get my notes back to the Grand Hotel--my home during the bombing campaign--to write the story for which she had taken such an enormous risk.
I slipped my notebook into the back of my pants, hoping that the police wouldn’t search there if they stopped me. When I got back to my room at the Grand about 15 minutes later, the notebook was soaking wet with sweat.
Once I had shoved it far enough under the mattress, I lay down and closed my eyes. I waited for a hammering on the hollow wooden door that never came.
One Last Roll of Film
In the last week before the air war started, I had worked out an emergency plan for finding Berisha if the phones were knocked out, as they were intermittently during the first airstrikes.
After pointing out a couple of street corners and cafes to check, we practiced the route to the house where she lived with her brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, parents and grandparents.
I was trying to prepare for finding them quickly if we all had to escape. But soon armed Serbs began to terrorize her neighborhood, and access was eventually cut off.
To complicate matters, several days after the air war started, my Land Rover was stolen like the rental car, cell phone and other tools of my trade before it. The noise of six Serbs breaking the locks, changing the slashed tires and replacing the ignition in the parking lot was so loud that I could hear it from my hotel room. The only thing I could think of to do was to take my camera and the last roll of film I had left and take their picture.
Still, I didn’t have a problem getting to Berisha’s neighborhood on foot until March 31, when Yugoslav troops, Serbian police and paramilitary gunmen moved through the district firing guns and breaking into homes.
That evening, as I was using a portable satellite phone I had hidden under my bed to file a story on the mounting terror, the column of ethnic Albanians was being marched to the railway station. The man I was able to speak with lived in the same district as my translator.
Stepping back from the mass of people, I searched the faces, desperately looking for Berisha’s. I couldn’t find her. As darkness fell, I prayed that she was somewhere in that crowd. At least then she would be alive.
That night, as I lay in a blacked-out city under NATO jet noise and distant explosions, I wondered what it was that I thought I was doing.
Sheer terror has a distinct odor, a musky primordial stink. And for the first time that night, I learned the smell of my own fear.
My Serbian translator had already left because Serbs might consider him a traitor. Now my ethnic Albanian translator was gone--maybe dead, for all I knew. I was alone in a war zone among the Serbs who I assumed wanted to kill me.
But it was not nearly that simple. There were also Serbs who took considerable risks to help me.
Because I had lost my car, which I often saw carrying four large Serbs in civilian clothes, I ended up hiring a 21-year-old Serbian veterinary student, Ivan Cvejic, and his car.
Ultimately, Cvejic paid heavily for working with me. On June 8, a sniper’s single bullet pierced both of his thighs when he was driving to pick me up. The shot, which police said was fired by a KLA guerrilla, narrowly missed vital arteries and bones, but Cvejic is still laid up in a Belgrade hospital.
Another Serb who helped me was 25-year-old Aleksandar Mitic, a correspondent with the French news agency Agence France-Presse.
Mitic was threatened several times by armed Serbs who regarded him as a traitor, but that didn’t stop him from doing his job or helping me through a series of crises.
When I talked my way back into Kosovo the day after the Kelmendis were executed, the hotel staff had warned me not to be overheard speaking English and not to leave the building. Mitic took me out anyway to buy provisions from one of the three or four shops still open.
He told me to point at what I wanted, and then he asked the clerk for it and paid. There was little left to choose from, so to make it simple, I picked chocolate bars and a jar of garlic dill pickles.
That was the dinner with which I celebrated, in the pitch dark, my first night back in Kosovo. The next morning, I decided the best way to improve my diet and to see what was going on was to join a bread line.
I took an empty blue plastic bag, walked out the front door of the hotel alone and took my place at the back of the first bread line I came across, a couple of blocks away.
If police were following me, I counted on them getting bored waiting 40 minutes for me to just get through the shop’s front door.
For safety’s sake, I ate in my room during the first few weeks of the war, which meant I survived mainly on bread, yogurt, chocolate, pickles, milk and, when I could stomach it, garlic sausage.
Carrying loaves of bread also gave me a reason to be on the streets, which were almost empty in the city center except for Serbian police, soldiers and paramilitary gunmen.
My heart raced every time I walked toward them, standing on a street corner or searching cars at roadblocks. I played mind games, thinking that I could will them not to stop me and ask who I was.
The cover of grocery shopping worked well, and I took roundabout routes into ethnic Albanian neighborhoods each day, checking over my shoulder from time to time to see if I was being followed.
Once I could hear Albanian, I knew I was safe because anyone who heard me speak English was an immediate friend. But I never took the same route twice, and one day that led me to make a mistake.
This time, when I thought I was among ethnic Albanians, I was actually among Serbs. When a group of young men loitering on a looted street asked who I was, I replied with the Albanian word for journalist.
“Where are you from?” one of them asked in English as I approached. As his face turned angry, I knew that I had screwed up.
“Canada,” I replied, and kept walking.
“What are you doing here?” he said more aggressively.
“Watching,” I said as I passed.
“Then I will come and shoot you tonight,” he shouted after me.
By reflex, my back stiffened, bracing for someone’s hand on my shoulder. There were men with guns, many in uniform, some not, on every street I could see. I just kept walking, counting seconds to the hotel, praying that nothing would happen. Nothing did.
I was arrested three times during the war but always released with an apology after police contacted a more senior commander, indicating that at some upper level, authorities knew that I was in Kosovo and had signed off on my presence.
Tensions eased for me in Pristina as the war settled into a sort of routine. Among other things, that meant I was able to eat in the hotel restaurant, where the cooks made a fine chicken soup and cabbage salad.
Before long, we were eating fresh tomatoes with cheese, and even wild strawberries and the occasional banana. At the same time, thousands of ethnic Albanians were living in the woods and mountains, surviving on nothing more than black bread fried in oil.
The lights also came back on at night. Until about midway through the war, the government turned off the electricity around dusk. Then someone decided that leaving the lights on was actually smarter because it might confuse pilots with high-tech night-vision equipment.
A Family’s Goodbyes
Just as American troops often did in the villages of Vietnam, where guerrillas lived among peasant farmers and it was hard to tell who was which, the Serbian security forces saw most ethnic Albanians, armed or not, as the enemy.
In the final hours before the bombing began, villagers in guerrilla-held territory, friends, my translator and her family--all had asked where I thought it was safe for them to escape to, and whether I could get them out.
While Serbian forces advanced through the Drenica Valley, the birthplace of the rebel Kosovo Liberation Army and where the Serbs had been sacking and burning villages for more than a year, thousands of refugees streamed down into government-held territory.
The Kosovo Albanian men, as they usually did, said goodbye to their women and children and stayed behind in guerrilla territory. Some were in the KLA; others feared that Serbian police would assume as much and execute them if they crossed the front line.
On March 21, I helped an ethnic Albanian family evacuate as Serbian forces advanced through the Drenica region, stealing TV sets, video players and other loot and torching homes as they went.
One of the women who came with me in the back of The Times’ armored Land Rover had two small children who had been wounded months earlier by a Serbian mortar bomb attack on their village.
The family were friends of a British journalist, Julius Strauss, who had helped them many times before. I watched the women kiss their men goodbye and load a few plastic bags of clothes and food into the back of the Land Rover, wiping away tears.
Almost 12 weeks later, after Milosevic had caved in and NATO’s bombing had stopped, Strauss told me that he had found the family in a refugee camp in Macedonia. The men I saw waving farewell in the rearview mirror never made it out. The women assume that they are dead.
In those final days before the start of NATO’S bombing campaign, many journalists left, either because they sensed the risks of Serbian retaliation or because they heard death threats on their bedside phones.
The doors in Pristina’s Grand Hotel, a dingy place with mildewed carpets, elevators that don’t work and five stars under its name, are the kind usually found on bedroom closets. A hearty child could kick one in, and within a few hours of the first explosions in and around Pristina, Serbian gunmen were readily opening journalists’ doors.
They pointed guns at some of the journalists’ heads and fired at least one bullet near a Spanish TV crew in a hallway. When the official order to leave Kosovo came the next afternoon, all but a few correspondents quickly heeded it.
Only two foreign journalists stayed behind officially in Pristina: Serif Turgut, 33, a Turkish ATV television reporter, and her longtime friend Miguel Gil, a Spanish TV cameraman working for Associated Press Television.
The two freelancers had survived the Serbs’ brutal siege of Sarajevo during the 3 1/2-year war in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and the experience had left them with no love for Bosnian Serbs.
Few Kosovo Serbs care much for Turks either, because the Ottoman Turkish empire conquered Kosovo in 1389 and ruled it for the next five centuries. That humiliation has become a Serbian obsession.
But when Turgut bites into her plastic cigarette filter and locks on with her sparkling brown eyes, she wields an alluring kind of power, a tough charm.
It’s odd, and it can be extremely risky, but defying a Kosovo Serb is often the fastest way to win his respect. By demanding to stay, Turgut and Gil won permission to do so from Pristina’s semiofficial media center.
Gil left Kosovo about two weeks after the air war began, leaving Turgut the only foreign reporter to hold out for the duration.
At least two other European journalists, a German and an Italian, managed to hide out in Pristina for several days, but the Serbs eventually caught them and kicked them out.
Crews from five Greek TV stations also were allowed to stay because, as Orthodox brethren from a country where very few people supported the war, they were seen by the Serbs as close allies. No matter that Greece is a member of NATO.
As I was on my way back into Kosovo to rejoin those who stayed behind after the initial expulsion, Serbian police looked at me and the Land Rover--with the large letters “TV” that journalists tape on all sides in a feeble attempt to ward off the evils of war--as if I were nuts.
But I had a Canadian passport, with another month left on a multiple-entry visa. While Canada is part of NATO, most people find it hard to use “Canadian” and “aggressor” in the same sentence without laughing.
The border guards, who had a lot of free time because the mass expulsions hadn’t yet begun, let me sit on the curb while they made a phone call to see if I could pass. Within 45 minutes, I was across the border and in Yugoslav customs.
One of the customs officers was drunk and looking for things to steal. That was fine as long as he didn’t find my satellite phone, the single thing I couldn’t work without. Slightly smaller than an encyclopedia, it comes apart in several pieces, which I stashed in a first-aid bag and my shaving kit, coiling up the cables in a pair of socks.
The largest part was wrapped up in a fleece jacket I had bought on the nuclear aircraft carrier Enterprise during recent airstrikes against Iraq.
But the customs agent was more interested in my sunglasses, transistor batteries, a bag full of film and two Leatherman pocket tool-and-knife kits. After taking those, he let me go.
At each of the half-dozen military or police checkpoints along the 50-mile road to Pristina, I was looted a little more. But no one ever found the satellite phone.
A Reporter, Not a Spy
Apart from letting the people manning the roadblocks take things, I also had to come up with excuses to explain why I shouldn’t be treated as a NATO spy.
At the last army checkpoint, a fat commander wearing a bullet dangling from a gold necklace on his bare chest refused to accept my assurances that I was not an aggressor. Then I had an inspiration.
I reminded him that Mila Mulroney, the wife of a former Canadian prime minister, had Serbian blood, a fact confirmed by a young soldier with thick glasses and a few days’ growth of beard. Smiles all around. Permission to proceed.
After the Land Rover was stolen, I had to hitch rides during the first few weeks of the war either from two Serbian photographers or from the Greeks, who all traveled freely throughout Kosovo.
Unlike foreign journalists based in Belgrade, none of us in Pristina were under direct military or police control, and we did not need permission to leave the city.
There was one restriction: We could not go into what the military and police called “operational areas,” which could be identified by the long columns of refugees streaming out.
I was able to reach all of Kosovo’s main cities and towns at least once, some of them several times, and I saw a much more complicated picture than the one relayed by refugees fleeing across the border. There often seemed to be a direct link between KLA or NATO attacks and Serbian revenge against innocent ethnic Albanians.
In towns like Djakovica in southwestern Kosovo, empty streets would fill with people over time, and then empty once again as NATO bombing intensified and Serbian rage boiled over.
The war was almost over before the Yugoslav army got around to setting up a media control office in Pristina, but even then it was easy to get through roadblocks without an escort. Still, it wasn’t until Serbian forces began to withdraw in the face of NATO’s advance that I was able to see close up what NATO and the U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague said was a mass grave.
But by the time I reached the remote village of Izbica in the destroyed Drenica region on June 16, the bodies had been dug up and taken away. Local ethnic Albanians said the Serbs did it to cover up their crime.
Through weeks of watching soldiers stroll through villages as fires spread, and seeing the terror in fleeing refugees’ eyes, it was not hard to imagine what might be happening in the places I--and other independent witnesses--couldn’t reach.
But the hard answers I needed eluded me again.
It will be up to forensics experts, and criminal investigators from the war crimes tribunal, to determine what actually happened there. No independent witnesses ever managed to see.
I have heard several theories about why the Serbs let me return, all but one of which come from people with no idea how I managed to get back across the border.
Some decided that I was a Serbian spy, while others were convinced that I was paying the Serbs for the privilege of watching their war.
My favorite claim, which I was told appeared somewhere in the French media, was that I didn’t even exist.
I prefer to believe the explanation I got from Mike Mihajlovic, a Serbian radio journalist and former stringer for the British Broadcasting Corp., who helps run Pristina’s semiofficial media center.
He brought up the subject himself while we were talking about the war, during a drive to a village where five ethnic Albanian children had blown themselves up by playing with an unexploded NATO cluster bomb.
“It doesn’t matter what you write,” Mihajlovic told me. “You can stay because you had the balls to come back.”
Apart from the luck of escaping a few near-misses by NATO bombs or the anger of armed Serbs and KLA snipers, the art of surviving in Kosovo could be learned in a primary school playground:
Bullies only get worse when you back down.
I watched a master at work when I was arrested while talking to Adem Demaci, who was, until March, the political leader of the KLA and therefore a man deeply hated by nationalist Serbs.
After a total of almost 29 years as a political prisoner, Demaci knows a few things about getting along with angry Serbian guards, even those who try to rattle him by saying he is about to be shot in the head.
Sitting in a cramped military command post in an apartment basement while more senior commanders decided what to do with us May 25, Demaci talked politics with our two Serbian guards.
Before long they were bored with arguing over whether Kosovo should be independent. The Serb in charge decided to change the subject.
“Enough of politics,” he barked at Demaci, a man in his 70s with thinning white hair and pop-bottle glasses. “What about sex? Tell me, Adem, is yours still working?”
Without pause, the man reviled by Serbs as Kosovo’s No. 1 terrorist assured his guard that indeed it was. Except that his wife had fled to Macedonia after attending Bajram Kelmendi’s funeral; the nights were rather lonely.
“Try this,” the guard said, taking a book from an almost empty shelf. The title was in English. It was a self-help guide to erotic massage.
Of course, to most ethnic Albanians during this war, Serbs with guns were hardly so humorous. And like many Serbs, they will no doubt live with the horrors of the past few months for the rest of their lives.
I was emotionally torn when the war finally ended, and almost everywhere I turned I either saw ethnic Albanian friends and acquaintances for the first time in weeks, or Serbs for the last time until who knows when.
An Italian photographer who arrived with NATO and was also a friend of my ethnic Albanian translator gave me Berisha’s phone number in Norway, where she had been resettled.
It took me days to work up the courage to call her, and even then, it took all the strength I had left not to cry.
As NATO advanced into Kosovo and KLA guerrillas retook territory they had lost in battle, thousands of Serbian civilians joined a swelling exodus from the Kosovo that they had fought so viciously to keep.
The Serbian Interior Ministry police officer who had helped Mitic and me find Demaci was one of them.
I usually saw the officer in plainclothes, once sitting alone in the hotel restaurant eating soup and watching a hand-held TV, which he said he had found while clearing a KLA guerrilla tunnel.
That same week, toward the end of the war, I also saw him outside, wearing the blue-and-black camouflage fatigues of the Serbian special police who did much of the dirtiest fighting against the KLA.
He said he was heading out for “an operation” against the KLA, and as the sun set, he climbed into an armored personnel carrier that headed south of the city.
He didn’t know it then, but in Belgrade, five hours’ drive to the north, beyond the scorched villages, the bombed-out factories and bridges, Milosevic was preparing to give in to NATO’s demands.
Police in the same blue-and-black camouflage had done much of the burning and looting of Kosovo’s villages for well over a year and were accused of atrocities such as mass executions and rape.
I had no way of knowing what, if anything, was evil in this officer’s heart. Whenever I saw him, I tried to imagine what any person is capable of doing when he is certain that his cause is just. He had never been anything but kind and respectful toward me, so I felt no need to hate or judge him.
The last time we met, at the door to the Grand’s restaurant, now packed with foreign journalists who had flooded in with the NATO peacekeepers, I actually felt sorry for him, just as I did for his ethnic Albanian enemies.
Politicians and commanders had sent them out to fight a vicious war that couldn’t be won, and who knows what ghosts would haunt such foot soldiers for that.
“I’m leaving in three days,” the Serbian cop said, smiling sheepishly as the first contingent of British troops in armored vehicles was rolling along the main street in front of the hotel. “I’ve lost my job.”
“Where will you go?” I asked him.
“I don’t know,” he replied. “Somewhere in Serbia. What does it matter?”