SLUG: 7-36040 Dateline: On Patrol in Kosovo
DATE=March 12, 2002
TITLE=On Patrol in Kosovo
INTRO: Some of the 35,000 NATO soldiers stationed in in the Yugoslavian province of Kosovo are getting ready to go on patrol. They have been since 1999, following the bloody ethnic war between Serbs and Albanians. Their main mission is to provide a safe and secure environment and to help unravel centuries of ethnic strife so two peoples can learn to live together.
In this special Dateline report, David Sommerstein (SUMMER-steen) goes on patrol with the members of the U-S Army's Tenth Mountain Division, which took command of the American sector of Kosovo last November.
TEXT: The Serbian Orthodox Church in Vitina occupies a pivotal site in this city of 10,000 people. It's right next to what the soldiers call the "ethnic fault line" of Vitina in this case, a bubbling creek. Ethnic Serbs some 40% of the population - live on one side of the creek. Ethnic Albanians live on the other. The white stucco church itself is completely surrounded by thick rolls of barbed wire. The wire glistens in the early spring sunshine.
TAPE: CUT 1, NAT SOUND/ WATER DRIPPING, UNDER FOR:
TEXT: Inside the church courtyard, melting snow pours from a rusty gutter. After a hard winter, the courtyard is clearing of snow. And that means Serbian children will again have a place to play without fear.
TAPE: CUT 2: JOSLIN
"Because, y'know, we got the guards around here. The parents aren't so worried about it. They'll send the kids right out there in the little courtyard and they'll run around, kick the little soccer ball, that kind of stuff."
TEXT: Captain Nick Joslin of the Tenth Mountain Division kicks at some slush with his black combat boots. He explains the Serbian children can't play out in the street sometimes the Albanian kids will throw rocks at them or pick fights. His soldiers escort the children to school. And they guard the church 24 hours a day.
TAPE: CUT 3: NAT SOUND/ STREET, UNDER FOR:
TEXT: Across the street from the church, Modena Traikovic (TRY-koh-vich), an elderly Serb in a babushka, shuffles out of what looks like a tin one car garage. She says it's her home.
TAPE: CUT 4, TRAIKOVIC IN SERBIAN, ESTABLISH THEN UNDER TEXT
"She likes the American soldiers, she says, because they bring her food and plywood to use as a bed frame."
TEXT: In the late 1990s, Serbian paramilitary troops forced hundreds of thousands of Albanians out of their homes at gunpoint. They raped women. They killed people. One Albanian woman remembers Serbian soldiers swaggering down the main street of her town, firing shots into the air, filling the people with fear. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees estimates nearly a million people, or half the Albanian population of Kosovo, were sent running.
After the NATO bombing in 1999, the Albanians returned home. And many were ready for revenge. They kicked Serbs like Modena Traikovic out of their homes. And they bombed dozens of Serbian churches throughout Kosovo. A volley of ethnic-based murders pitted neighbor against neighbor in many towns. Captain Nick Joslin says the memories of the war run deep. And he keeps his soldiers alert for guns, grenades, sticks of dynamite.
TAPE: CUT 5: JOSLIN
"Nothing happens here by accident, that's what people tell me all the time, and if you can just see the things that lead up to the big event before it happens, you have an opportunity to influence it, to change it."
TEXT: The violence is down dramatically from a few years ago. Captain Joslin says in the three months he's been in Vitina, there's been only one shooting. Still, he says, his soldiers aren't taking any chances.
TAPE: CUT 6: NAT SOUND/ STREET
TEXT: Sergeant Lacoya Tinder stands in front of the church, clutching his M-16 rifle. His eyes dart left and right. Clusters of people all Albanian -- stroll across the bridge that spans the creek. Down stream the silver tower of the Albanian mosque rises above gray and brown apartment buildings. Sergeant Tinder says he's glad to have made the trip from Fort Drum, New York, the quiet, rural base of the Tenth Mountain Division, to this busy intersection.
TAPE: CUT 7, TINDER
"For me, being able to protect a house of worship or being able to protect a church where people can worship, I feel proud."
TEXT: The soldier admits that as an infantryman trained for combat, he sometimes wishes he had more action here, like his fellow soldiers are seeing in Afghanistan. But he says in the end, this mission is just as important.
TAPE: CUT 8: TINDER
"If we would leave and these people would get killed just because we leave, that's a hard thing to have on your conscience. I'm glad we're providing a safe environment for the people and that people are able to worship and live in certain places and just carry on what we say is normal day life, just because of us."
TEXT: Across the street, Albanian high school students on their lunch break wave to the soldier. Like the vast majority of Albanians and Serbs, they say they appreciate the peacekeeping presence in Vitina. But they're not sure it's needed anymore.
TAPE: CUT 9: STUDENT IN ALBANIAN W/ VOICEOVER
"It is important for them to protect this church but it isn't that much important because nobody's going to touch it. And as nobody's going to touch our mosque, we're not going to touch their church."
TEXT: What they want, they say, is youth centers, discotheques, what other kids around the world have. They're not alone. As peace settles on Kosovo, local concerns are turning from simple survival to the devastated economy. Unemployment is as high as fifty-five percent in most places. The NATO bombing devastated roads, electric wires, water supplies.
The U-S peacekeepers are helping to rebuild the country. U-S soldiers are training local doctors. The Army just bought new garbage trucks and fire engines for Vitina. In addition to the safe and secure environment, it's these gestures that endear American troops to Kosovars.
TAPE: CUT 10: NAT SOUND/ WALKING IN THE MARKET
TEXT: It's market day in Vitina. Fort Drum soldiers fan out through the sea of people. They sport green camouflage flak jackets, helmets, and M-16 rifles. Albanians smile at them and shake hands. Children pull at their uniforms and ask for pens. Sergeant John Taylor says the kids help pass the time on a day of long patrols.
TAPE: CUT 11: TAYLOR
"When the snow was falling, they'd be throwing snowballs at us. They like to joke and laugh with us. They pick on us a lot but they're fun to be around. They're good kids."
TEXT: All kinds of goods are for sale at the market stalls fresh vegetables, coffee makers, elegant suits. But few people stop to buy. Most just stroll and chat. An old man in a traditional white Albanian hat leans against a pole. He watches people come and go. When asked about the American soldiers, he perks up.
TAPE: CUT 12: MAN/ IN ALBANIAN W/ VOICEOVER
"If it wasn't for the Americans, the Serbs would have killed us all."
TEXT: Then when asked what he'll do when the Americans leave, he laughs. Then he says, 'I'll go with them.' It's this dependence on the American presence that makes this peacekeeping mission seem long term. The ethnic hatred runs deep and won't disappear in a couple years. St. Lawrence University History Professor William Hunt has traveled often to the former Yugoslavia since the wars began. In the ethnic conflict in Kosovo, he sees a familiar herd-like mentality that people resort to in a time of death and violence.
TAPE: CUT 13: HUNT
"In some cases it can be skin color, in some cases it can be religion, in some cases it can be the way your name ends, which is the marker. It almost doesn't matter. It's what defines you as part of a collectivity that you can turn to for help against other collectivities that are a threat to you. So it's an abnormal situation, but it's going to take awhile for that to pass."
TAPE: CUT 14: MUSIC
TEXT: At the market, Captain Nick Joslin strides past a man selling CDs from his car. A speaker blares a traditional Albanian folk song. Captain Joslin says the situation in Kosovo reminds him of the story of King Alexander and the Gordian Knot.
TAPE: CUT 15: JOSLIN
"They had this huge ball of rope that was knotted and knotted into so many knots that you could never find the ends of the knots."
TEXT: The people brought the ball of rope to King Alexander looking for answers. The King unsheathed a sword and sliced the ball in two.
TAPE: CUT 16: JOSLIN
"That's sort of the problem we're sorting through here, the Gordian knot. There's so many intricate parts to it that are knotted together that it's so hard to pull apart that at some point you have to decide where to cut and say, 'okay, here's the way we've got to do it.'"
TEXT: That point hasn't quite come yet. Captain Joslin hopes he and other Tenth Mountain soldiers can do their part to help Albanians and Serbs unravel the rope without resorting to King Alexander's sword.
For Dateline, I'm David Sommerstein in Vitina, Kosovo.
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