October 03, 2003 Features & Images » Feature Story

Feature - The long trek to peace 

A Whistler student is part of an international effort to establish a Balkans Peace Park

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Frustrated by the apparent failure of their eight-year long campaign of passive resistance, and in reaction to the police violence, an Albanian peasant group calling themselves the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) began to organize to protect civilians. The formation of the KLA and its sporadic acts of armed revolt gave Milosevic an excuse to write them off as terrorists and escalate his campaign against the ethnic Albanians. KLA actions were met with disproportionately severe and indiscriminate responses from Serb security forces, which in turn stimulated the growth of the organization. Western negotiators could not convince Milosevic to halt his campaign of expulsion and extermination, and after the failure of the talks at Rambouillet, the NATO bombing campaign began on March 24, 1999. The war ended on July 10 and the long road to recovery began.

Everyone we met had a story about the war; many had lost family members. One of our good friends, today a filmmaker, had been a KLA scout in the same valley through which we hiked during the trek. He joked about how bullets would whiz past him as he tried to film the fighting. His brother was killed by a Serb sniper.

Another man we met and worked with had lost his brother, father and uncle in the war. After losing everything, he too became a member of the KLA. One of our friends had a local colleague in the UN who couldn’t make a meeting one-day because he had to attend a funeral. The body of his nephew, killed when he was 11, had finally been returned from Serbia for a proper burial. Teenagers my own age talked about going to refugee camps after their houses were burned down as if it wasn’t out of the ordinary.

We were amazed that after all they had been through the Kosovar Albanians were not bitter or victimized, but instead were grateful to be getting on with their lives. They are truly some of the most hospitable, welcoming people I have ever encountered. Friends would stop us in the street and invite us to have coffee with them and would always apologize for their English not being good enough. They would invite us into their houses for enormous meals. When we asked if there was a Laundromat in town they would insist on doing our laundry for us. We still receive e-mails from friends that begin "accept our most sincere greetings to you and your family."

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