- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 14, 2001

TERNOVA, Yugoslavia The good times are ending for this ethnic Albanian village branded by Serbian officials as a haven for international smugglers operating out of reach of either NATO or Yugoslav troops in the U.N.-declared buffer zone surrounding Kosovo.

The surrounding roads are already full of tanks and armored personnel carriers as the Yugoslav army prepares to move into the zone under an agreement reached with NATO Monday in order to snuff out a revolt by ethnic Albanian rebels.

"We are afraid of being mistreated by the army," said Hamzi Bajrami, a 62-year-old local patriarch and farmer wearing a double-breasted jacket. "We have no weapons, unlike the Serbs living here, who are armed to the teeth.

"When the army was here in 1999, I offered them a house to sleep in. They responded by breaking into my farmhouse by force, smashing up furniture and my TV, using the rooms as toilets and stealing flour… . There is no future for us under the Serb regime."

Officials at the Information Ministry of the reformer-led Yugoslav government in Belgrade have labeled Ternova as a haven for Albanian, Serbian and Russian gangsters. They say the hoodlums have used the safety of the buffer zone to establish a lucrative trade in arms, drugs, prostitution and illegal immigrants heading for the West.

"Ternova has been circled in red by Interpol," one official said. "It is enough to see how well people live by comparison with elsewhere in southern Serbia to understand."

If the accusations are true, however, the only evidence is the smart new four-story houses decked with satellite dishes and a dazzling white mosque built a short distance from a tiny Orthodox church.

No gunmen or foreigners were evident on the streets when a small group of journalists visited the ethnic Albanian town of 2,000 inhabitants yesterday.

The farmers and shopkeepers on the streets insisted the new buildings had been paid for with remittances sent by native sons laboring in Western Europe, Australia and the United States.

"There is no smuggling here," said Mr. Bajrami, the patriarch. "It is all a big lie. Our young people go to work all over the world, and they are used to helping their families."

Another resident acknowledged that heroin is peddled by dealers in the surrounding Presevo Valley the center of recent activity by ethnic Albanian rebels but said it was strictly for local consumption.

"Our boys go to Germany or Switzerland to work in construction sites, and suddenly they earn more money than they have seen in their lives. They get caught up in the drugs scene in the West and when they come back, they have to feed their habits."

For now, the residents of Ternova are much more worried about the Yugoslav special force troops who have begun returning to the buffer zone to halt guerrilla attacks on Serbian police posts and across the border into Macedonia.

Residents say they fear they will be subject to the same persecution they suffered at the hands of Serbian forces before the Western bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999.

Yugoslav army positions were visible around the town yesterday and there was heavy military traffic on the road from the nearby Serbian town of Presevo, indicating the main Yugoslav deployment into the buffer zone may be imminent.

Commanders of the NATO peacekeeping force in Kosovo have arranged for European Union monitors and British troops from the Royal Horse Artillery to deploy in the 3-mile-wide security zone to monitor the Serbs' activities and protect the local population.

Even so, "We don't feel safe," said Bislim Bajrami, a hospitable general storekeeper and the son-in-law of the patriarch, who accused Serbian forces of committing atrocities against the town's residents before being driven out by the Western bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999.

"We don't trust the Yugoslav army. Most of the Yugoslav soldiers should go to The Hague for what they did," he said, referring to the U.N. war-crimes tribunal, as he lounged in a leather jacket, surrounded by a crowd of young people who nodded in agreement.

Unlike other ethnic Albanian villages such as Koncul and Mali Ternikov farther north in the buffer zone, Ternova is not obviously under the control of the Liberation Army of Presevo, Medjeva and Bujanovac, the tough guerrillas who are fighting to seize control of Albanian-dominated areas of Serbia.

But most of those gathered in Mr. Bajrami's well-stocked store said they would like to belong to an independent Kosovo state such as the guerrillas hope to establish.

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