A rural view of Kosovo's bumpy road to peace
By Nic Robertson
Web posted at: 10:24 a.m. EST (1524 GMT)
This news analysis was written for CNN Interactive.
PRISTINA, Yugoslavia (CNN) -- You know you're getting close because the road gets bumpier.
If you were still on pavement, you'd probably be in the part of the Yugoslavian province of Kosovo that Serbian security forces still control.
The fast highway to Belgrade is far behind you and horse carts begin to slow your travel. A few meager roads fan out across the hilly countryside.
There, people live a rural life, drawing water from a well in their garden, in a village where many neighbors are relatives. There, ethnic Albanian separatists now hold sway -- with guns.
Since October, the back roads and dirt tracks of Kosovo have been more or less off-limits to the Serbian forces. Under the threat of NATO reprisals, Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic agreed to an interim peace deal that left him with fewer forces there.
It's into these fragile communities of the countryside that the violence of this past year has thrust itself, scattering the people before it.
The cities and towns are tense. When a car backfires, heads turn to look, expecting the worst.
But it's not in those places yet that the separatists' would-be Kosovo is taking shape. It's in the countryside.
Turn down a farm track or take one of the myriad dirt roads that crisscross the hills, and, before you've gone a mile or even a few hundred feet, you'll be confronted by armed men.
Some of them might not be old enough to shave. Many will have red-and-yellow patches sown on their sleeves or pinned to their jackets, which are emblazoned with the letters UCK, the Albanian acronym for Kosovo Liberation Army, or KLA.
They are the gatekeepers to what they envision as a new, independent Kosovo.
At least, that's their idea. But despite scrambling to buy guns and train fighters, they appear to stand little chance of matching the military might the Serbs can wield.
This has been graphically illustrated, again and again. Last week, it was in Rogovo, where 24 ethnic Albanians were killed. Earlier last month, it was in Racak, with 45 dead.
Survivors of Racak scattered into the mountains, camping under plastic sheeting. They joined nearly 200,000 other ethnic Albanians unable to return home, because either it's unsafe or it's a pile of charred rubble.
To those with first-hand trauma of this war, add relatives who feel the trauma second-hand, and you have swelling ranks of angry, unhappy people.
The Serbs who live in Kosovo are now suffering too, finding themselves a ready target of ethnic Albanian anger.
The Yugoslavian province of Kosovo is about 90 percent ethnic Albanian; the others, mostly Serbs, number about 200,000. Serbs have been leaving Kosovo for decades. This poor corner offers few prospects.
Those Serbs still here have their share of refugees among them. Some are intimidated out of their homes, if they are unlucky enough to live far from their kin. And mindful of the KLA, they can fear traveling out of their enclaves, such as the isolated village of Kijevo.
For the most part, the state-run news television programs tell them everything is under control. But they still don't feel safe and wonder why Belgrade never consults them -- the ones who live with the problem -- on how best to solve it.
Trundling up the highways and bouncing around the back roads of Kosovo, there's also a multitude of orange off-road vehicles.
They belong to the international Kosovo Verification Mission, brought into being by last fall's deal to patrol a shaky peace until a final peace can be secured.
These verifiers are officially observers. But to many of the vulnerable in Kosovo, the men and women in orange jeeps offer hope of security.
Now, NATO is once again threatening attacks unless both sides agree to peace within prescribed deadlines.
With their hopes firmly pinned on international intervention, the ethnic Albanians think they can see the road to their future coming into view. It looks a little bumpy, but they'll take it for now.
North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)
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