Villagers Building New Future

Traumatised by the Kosovo war, residents of Krushe e Madhe are determined to rebuild their shattered homes.

Villagers Building New Future

Traumatised by the Kosovo war, residents of Krushe e Madhe are determined to rebuild their shattered homes.

The elementary school in Krushe e Madhe was one of the first war-damaged buildings in the village to be rebuilt.

Its reconstruction is of great symbolic importance to local people who've long regarded the education of their children a priority, even under the former Serb regime of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.

"We had parallel institutions in Kosovo throughout the 90s and have done our utmost to keep our schools running," said language teacher, Nasip Gashi. "During the last two years we used our salaries to keep the schools functioning. They're very important for us, for our future."

The school, which accommodates nearly a thousand pupils, betrays little sign of the war.

Hundreds of houses in Krush e Madhe, a once prosperous village, have been repaired with the help of international organisations, but the physical and emotional scars of last year's conflict are much in evidence.

Roofless, burnt out houses line the streets. Not far from the school, scores of fresh wreaths drape war-graves and Italian aid workers have built a rehabilitation center for traumatized children.

As one of the command centers for the Kosovo Liberation Army during the war, the village was heavily shelled by Serb troops, forcing residents to flee to neighbouring Albania.

Just over two hundred local people were killed. Some went missing and are presumed dead. Many of the graves have no names. Scores of corpses could not be identified.

"Have you heard of Ukshin Hoti?" said mathematics teacher Avdyl Duraku, pointing to the burnt house of the former lawyer, a well-known campaigner for Albanians' rights before the war. Posters asking for information about his disappearance are scattered throughout Kosovo.

All the men in neighbouring Krushe e Vogel were murdered during the war. The village is now populated by their womenfolk who have been trained in running things on their own.

In the Krushe e Madhe cemetery, Duraku walks dutifully along the line of graves. While pointing out whole families murdered by the Serbs, he stops briefly at one burial plot - that of his 16-year-old son, killed by Serb soldiers.

"They killed many people from the village," said Duraku, who is also the head of the children's rights protection center based in Prizren. "They killed four colleagues - nine others have disappeared."

The whole community has been involved in rebuilding the village, while financial contributions from relatives living abroad have helped to keep the local economy going.

Some houses have only been partially rebuilt. Short of manpower and resources, the priority at the moment is to ensure that families have just enough shelter to survive the harsh winter.

Elsewhere in Kosovo, the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo, UNMIK, has rebuilt 2,767 houses at a cost of $9 million since August last year.

Some of the $2.3 billion donors recently pledged for the rebuilding of the Balkans will be spent in Kosovo. - key projects include the development of trade and transport infrastructure and a regional television network.

In addition to assisting with the reconstruction, UNMIK has helped to establish local government across Kosovo. Councils are now operating in 22 out of Kosovo's 30 municipalities.

These authorities, set up following consultations with representatives of political parties and the municipalities, meet regularly, addressing major issues of concern to the local population.

UNMIK administrators, who chair the councils, rely heavily upon their advice in taking decisions that affect the local population.

Krushe e Madhe villagers are grateful for all the outside help they've received, but now they want more control over their own destiny."We're determined to overcome our bloody past and move on," said Duraku.

Ermal Hasimja is a freelance journalist in Pristina.

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