Kosovo remembers 1999 air strikes

23/03/2011

Kosovo Albanians say the NATO campaign to enforce a UN-imposed no-fly zone in Libya brings back memories.

By Muhamet Brajshori for Southeast European Times in Pristina – 23/03/11

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As attacks on civilians in Libya continue, Kosovo Albanians say they empathise. [Reuters]

On March 24th, Kosovo will mark the twelfth anniversary of the 1999 NATO air strikes against the regime of Slobodan Milosevic. This year, however, the occasion has new significance.

Just days ago, the EU and NATO launched attacks against Muammar Gaddafi's air defence systems in an effort to protect civilians in Libya. Many in Kosovo were reminded of the 1999 events.

"Waiting in the house basement for long periods of time is something which still today I cannot describe," recalls Rafet Beqiri, 59.

For two decades he worked for a Yugoslav construction industry in Libya, from 1982 until 1987, and in Iraq.

"I understand how the people in Libya feel; I worked there and saw how difficult it is to live under Gaddafi. When I see how many are being killed and the current strikes against Libya, I remember what we faced in 1999."

He describes how Serbian police came to expel his family from his house in Pristina during the night of March 24th.

"The Serbian police said, 'Do you see NATO? They are coming, but when they come, you will not be here'," he recalled.

During their first night of exile, he and his family left Pristina with many others, walking to the station to catch the first train to the border with Macedonia.

Beqiri remembers that Gaddafi's regime supported Milosevic in his campaign against the Albanians.

"Now he kills his own people, and if NATO does not stop him, he will achieve his goal and kill all who oppose him," he said.

Nezir Berisha, 73, is a former Yugoslav diplomat -- one of the few Kosovo Albanians who worked for the former communist country's Foreign Service. He was posted in Tripoli for three years.

"I'm happy that the international community is acting faster in Libya than in Kosovo. The people need help there, as we needed it in 1999," says Berisha. "We in Kosovo understand such actions, and more, we understand what the Libyans are facing."

Berisha recalls a 2007 visit to Libya.

"For the people living there, it was the same as for us [Kosovo Albanians] in 1978 when I was posted in Tripoli. The regime kept a hold over the people and controlled their lives."

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International affairs usually do not get front page coverage in Kosovo media, but Libya has made headlines on all main TV stations and in newspapers for days.

"The links between Libya and Serbia, Gaddafi's support for Milosevic in 1999, and above all the NATO air strikes against Yugoslavia and the killings of civilians makes the crisis in Libya [dominate] the headlines -- not just for editors, but also for the people," says Fatlum Sadiku, a commentator for the local Kosovo newspapers.

The Kosovo government has officially come out in support of air strikes against the Libyan forces.

"Kosovo understands the importance of such interventions from 1999, and supports the efforts of the Libyan people for freedom and democracy, in becoming an important country of the Arab world," Prime Minister Hashim Thaci said.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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