Destruction of Serbian Orthodox church in Podujevo
Czechs hold line in Kosovo
KFOR soldiers defend Serb enclaves against
attacks by Albanians
"Albanians smashed everything inside, including our communications center, made a big pile in front and set it on fire. Then they turned their attention to the adjacent Serb cemetery. They knocked over tombstones, dug up the coffins and scattered the bones in them", says Czech captain Jindrich Plescher - "I have never seen anything like it"
By Eva Munk
For The Prague Post
(March 25, 2004)
Captain Jindrich Plescher had never seen anything like it.
"We were defending a Serb Orthodox church in the town of Podujevo against a mob of 500 Albanians, but there were too many for us," he recalled. "When they broke through the wall [around the church], we got orders to retreat.
"They smashed everything inside, including our communications center, made a big pile in front and set it on fire. Then they turned their attention to the adjacent Serb cemetery. They knocked over tombstones, dug up the coffins and scattered the bones in them."
For the first time March 21, the professionally optimistic voice of Plescher, press spokesman for the Czech-Slovak KFOR battalion in Kosovo, sounded tired.
"Sorry, we've been on our feet since last week," he said. "Our boys have been rounding up Serb families, pulling them out of cellars and out of burning houses -- saving their lives."
Czech and Slovak soldiers have been supporting KFOR's Brigade center -- a multinational unit consisting of Finnish, Swedish and Irish troops, located around the administrative center of Pristina -- since mobs of ethnic Albanians went on a rampage against Kosovo's Serb minority March 17.
"The Serbs are very happy to see Czech and Slovak troops. They see us as keepers of the peace," Plescher said.
For most of the week, they helped defend Serb enclaves in the towns of Lipljan, Plemetina, Babin Most, Caglavica and Gracanica. By March 21 they had consolidated around the village of ObiliÁ, a Serb enclave northwest of Pristina, and were evacuating the remaining Serb inhabitants to military headquarters in the city. The Serb homes in the village were ransacked and burned, said unit commander Josef Kopecky.
In times of peace, the 500-strong Fourth Czech-Slovak KFOR battalion keeps the peace in an area of 1,000 square kilometers (386 square miles) in the northeast corner of the province, including 104 kilometers (65 miles) of borderland and a long stretch of the Belgrade-Pristina highway. The area was expanded by 179 square kilometers March 22 to include more ethnically mixed villages.
Now their mission is simply to protect Serbs from enraged mobs of ethnic Albanians.
"The residents have gone to war with each other using whatever they can -- iron bars, rifles, handguns and even grenades," Kopecky said March 19. "In Serbian enclaves, Kosovo Albanians are destroying property, burning houses, chasing people away and even lynching them. The Serbs are trying to defend themselves and we are trying to keep them apart."
No Czech or Slovak soldiers have been hurt, except for one Slovak who was hit on the head with a rock, Plescher said. "He was up on his feet again the next day. Please, please tell everyone back home that all our boys are alive and well."
The Czech government had planned to withdraw 100 troops from Kosovo by May 1. But the performance of the Czech soldiers in quelling the riots has made the government change its mind about downsizing the force in the province, Czech Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla told reporters.