As NATO Bombed Yugoslavia, Fear Gripped Serbs in Kosovo

"On March 24, I noticed that my parents were worried more than ever. It was an anxious day. My father did not have to go to work," Dimitrijevic told BIRN. "In the evening we heard that the bombing had started and there were explosions."

He recalled that the first target hit by NATO bombs was in the Peja/Pec region of Kosovo, which at the time was still part of Yugoslavia, and was the local Yugoslav army base. "That night my parents and the others decided to stay downstairs in the basement. The windows were shaking from the bombing and artillery. It was scary," he said.

Although he was young, he said he could feel that things were changing dramatically. "My parents tried not to tell us everything. I understood that they wanted to save us from the bad things happening," he said. "But it was no longer possible. You can't hide a war."

NATO launched its 78-day campaign of air strikes against Yugoslavia in what it described a humanitarian intervention to end the ethnic cleansing and violent repression of Kosovo Albanians by the Yugoslav Army and Serbian police, which were controlled by President Slobodan Milosevic's regime in Belgrade.

For many Kosovo Serbs like Dimitrijevic, the bombing campaign brought fear and uncertainty.

Fighting between the ethnic Albanian guerrillas of the Kosovo Liberation Army KLA and Serbian forces had started in 1998. By the summer of 1998, there was violence in the Peja/Pec area.

"Until that time, I went to school and I visited my aunt who lived in Peja. I had many Serbian and Albanian friends there. We were playing and we didn't know that the war was coming," Dimitrijevic said.

But in December that year, a violent incident in the city started to make him and his friends concerned about what...

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