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Traumatized Refugees Grappling With Scars From Kosovo Terror


BRAZDA, Macedonia — At a makeshift school in a refugee camp, it was 5-year-old Jeton Hasani's turn to tell his story of what happened in Kosovo.

With the teacher at his side, Jeton started to talk in a matter-of-fact tone.

"A grenade was thrown into our garden. Then my grandma was dead. My uncle, he's standing over there, was injured," Jeton said.

Then the meaning of his words seemed to hit him. His whole body tensed up, his cherubic face turned bright red, and tears started to spritz from his eyes.

"Grandma, grandma, I want my grandma!" he cried.

The rest of the class, more than a dozen small children, sat quietly on a gray woolen blanket watching the painful scene.

Losses such as Jeton's hardly make headlines amid the accounts of massacres and the systematic expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Kosovo Albanians from their homeland in recent weeks.

But the senseless, random killings of countless beloved grandmothers and best friends during the Serbian forces' sweep through Kosovo are leaving emotional and psychological scars that will outlast the war in the Yugoslav province.

The people who have experienced these devastating personal tragedies are dealing with them in different ways. Some are trying to exact revenge with their own hands. Others are determined that once they return to Kosovo, no Serbs will share their land. And others, who, like Jeton, are too young to think about making someone pay for their pain, have been so deeply traumatized that they will never be the same.

Jeton's grandma, Arife Hasani, 57, was the one who cuddled with him while watching cartoons on television each day. And she was the one who baked the delicious cheese and spinach pies that are his favorite.

Now she's buried in the garden.

Hasani and her daughter, Fatmire Hasani, were up late March 25 preparing to follow the order of Serbian security forces to leave their home in Metrovica early the next morning. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization bombings had begun the day before.

Fatmire Hasani, Jeton's aunt, was in the bathroom when she heard an explosion that knocked the lights out. In the darkness, she heard her mother's faint voice and found her lying in blood.

A piece of shrapnel had lodged into her neck. Soon she was in a coma, then dead.

The family wanted to keep the horrible news from Jeton, so when he asked for his grandma in the morning, they told him that she was in the hospital. But he discovered her body and vomited from the shock.

"This trauma will stay with him forever," Fatmire Hasani said.

For a week, Jeton couldn't stop crying. Since then, he talks about his grandma all the time and sees her in his sleep.

So does Fatmire Hasani.

"I keep dreaming of the moment when I found her in the pool of blood. And she says to me: 'I'm not dead. I'm alive,' " said the 30-year-old teacher.

Besim Berisha, 21, was hiding in the hills near his home in the southern Kosovo village of Mirosala when he saw tanks approach his house.

"My grandfather came out to see what was happening," Berisha said. "I saw them stab him in the chest with a knife."

Death did not come as a surprise to 70-year-old Zejnel Berisha. He had said goodbye to his loved ones when they headed into the forest to hide from Serbian security forces who had ordered them out.

"He didn't want to leave the house," Besim Berisha said. "He wanted to die in his own home."

Berisha said that he was done crying over his grandfather's death and that now he is determined to avenge it. "I don't have a heart anymore," he said coolly.

He wants to join the Kosovo Liberation Army, or KLA, like numerous other refugees have, but the guerrilla force is not accepting volunteers who do not have their own weapons. Although he has no experience, Berisha said that it should not stand in his way: "I will learn to fight in two hours."

Fadil Dragaj, 42, can't fight, though he would love to.

Two days before the NATO airstrikes started, Dragaj was at a cafe near the popular restaurant he owns in Pristina, Kosovo's capital, when the cafe was attacked by Serbian security forces with automatic weapons and explosives. Five bullets left wounds in Dragaj's arms. Shrapnel lodged in his back and pierced his lungs. Three of his ribs were broken. He now has no use of his right arm, and one finger has been amputated.

More than four weeks later, he is still bandaged and aching and breathes with pain. But his greater agony is that his best friend was killed by Serbian security forces. His friend had 11 bullets in his body when he was found, and there were 150 bullets in his car, Dragaj said.

"Losing my friend is like losing my brother," he said. "He was a very, very good man. He was from the rock 'n' roll generation, and his whole life was rock 'n' roll. Everyone knew him in Pristina."

"I have a trauma of hatred and anger and revenge," Dragaj said. "If all the people who have committed these crimes against my people are punished, my trauma will be cured. This would be my therapy."

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