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Kosovo struggles with the bloody past 20 years after the first NATO war

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From Alexander Smith and Vladimir Banich

MITROVITSA, Kosovo – When Ibrahim Delia walks in the streets of her hometown, he will ask for light.

Here in Mitrovica, an ethnically divided city in northern Kosovo, even this innocent issue can bear an ominous motive. Delia, 21, does not worry about unprepared cigarette smokers, but rather nationalistic agitators who want to provoke ethnic violence. and you will be in serious trouble, "he said, sitting in a foggy, sunny coffee one afternoon away from his university English studies. "It's like going to jail, living here."

This is the daily life of many people living in this country, with a sea-front of 1.8 million – less than Connecticut and less populated by Nebraska.

Kosovo is one of the most pro-American places on earth, thanks to a US military warfare that began 20 years ago on Sunday . in 1999, evicted forces from neighboring Serbia, committing brutal repression against Kosovo rebels fighting for independence. This was the first NATO war.

The bombing lasted for 78 days and is often advertised in the West as an example of successful military intervention: a quick act of force to stop ethnic cleansing. He ended a conflict that killed 13,000 people and hundreds of thousands of people fled their homes. Two decades later – 4,000 NATO troops, including 650 Americans, are still being sent here – Kosovo remains obsessed with instability and division

Pro-US. vibration is undeniable. There is a 11-meter statue of President Bill Clinton in Pristina. It is possible to stroll along the dusty Bill Clinton Boulevard, which suffocates from trafficking by turning to Boulevard Horks Bush, named after the 42nd and 43rd Presidents, on the way to one of several clothes stores called Hillary "in honor of the former secretary of state and first lady.

Despite withdrawing from the war, Serbia has never recognized Kosovo's independence. Neither nearly half of the world's countries, including Russia, China and Spain. It has effectively kept Kosovo stranded and uncertain, blocking its way to international organizations such as NATO, the UN and the European Union.

Serbia wants to join the profitable EU. too. In an attempt to break this deadlock, leaders in the region have planned a plan in recent months to replace the territory between neighbors.

Supporters say that this can allow the region to finally get past the painful sorrow of the 1990s; opponents say there is nothing less than redrawing boundaries on ethnic lines, abandoning the concept of multiculturalism.

A swap of land will be a "recipe for hell," a former publicist and former politician Veton Surroi earlier in a roundtable discussion in Pristina earlier predicted

The resumption of this regional box could provoke nationalist violence and discrimination, critics say, even leading to a domino effect that enables other separatists moving around the world to emigrate.

"There will be a cascade of consequences," said 49-year-old Miodrag Milicevic, a Kosovo Serb who lives in Mitrovica and runs a non-governmental organization promoting ethnic reconciliation. "I am afraid that we are entering a very, very worried period that I hope will not lead to interethnic conflict."

United States. National Security Adviser John Bolton raised eyebrows and even some worries last year when he said that Washington would be open to the idea of ​​rewriting Kosovo borders. "We do not exclude territorial adjustments," he told reporters in Kiev, according to Radio Free Europe.

In December, President Donald Truh wrote to Kosovo President Hashim Thaci and his Serbian counterpart Alexander Vucic, urging them to

tHe had once been a partisan leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army or KLA before rising to the top of the country's political system. This transition from wrestler to statesman made Vice President Joe Biden to describe it in 2010 as "Kosovo George Washington".

However, a report by Council of Europe rapporteur Dick Marty later described Thaci as "the most dangerous of the KLA" later this year. criminal bosses, "drawing him a king of a violent drug search network and even the harvested organs of the killed Serb prisoners.

Some in Kosovo believe Thaci and his allies are only interested in concluding a deal with Serbia if they granted the immunity from a special court in The Hague set up to investigate these alleged crimes. "The president categorically denied the allegations

On the other hand, Vucic was Serbia's minister for information during the NATO bombing against his country. has served in the administration of President Slobodan Milosevic accused of war crimes, including 66 counts of genocide, but died in his cell in 2006 prior to the verdict

Whatever Trump's motive, many believe his intervention for a clear change , not only for the White House, but also for EU leaders who have refused to rule out the possibility of land replacement.While these international mediators have previously encouraged Kosovo and Serbia to focus on constructive dialogue, critics say they are now dealing with potentially r a quick quick decision.

"Trump's intentions have to be questioned with this move," Christian Schwarz-Schilling, the first EU special representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina, writes about Deutsche Welle's German public radio earlier this month. "There is speculation that he is seeking a deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin," meaning "Kosovo will join NATO, and Serbia will remain under Russian influence."

A Serbian national flag is hung on an apartment in northern Mitrovica. Armende Nimani / for NBC News

Land proponents are replacing admitting that this is far from perfection, but they say this is the worst option.

More than 90% of Kosovo's population are ethnic Albanians, mostly Muslims, who feel loyal to neighboring Albania. Around 5% are ethnic Serbs, mostly Orthodox Christians who feel closer to the Serbian government

Perhaps because of the worrisome political landscape, neither President Thaci nor Vucic offers much detail about what this exchange can bring about. Both have said they are willing to look at it, but have used abstract terms such as "border correction", "border demarcation" and "demarcation". They even seem to have given up the idea at different points.

This has allowed experts to decipher what a deal might look like. The most likely scenario, he said, could see Serbia abandon part of its territory, almost exclusively populated with Albanians. In return, Kosovo can retreat the northern part of its land, dominated by Serbs.

Kosovo Serbs walk under Russian and Serbian flags on the central square in northern Mitrovica. Armend Nimani / for the NBC News

division will divide the city of Mitrovica into two – with the conversion of the Ibar River into the Berlin Wall. The city is already divided by ethnicity, Albanians living mostly south of the river, Serbs to the north.

Standing on a bridge that serves as a de facto control point, the confrontation between the two sides is clear. Albania's red-black banner flies high to one bank; Serbian and Russian flags decorate the streets on the other side.

The bridge is patrolled by NATO and Kosovo officials, but many local residents say they are careful not to cross their peaceful waters into their rival community.

Tringa Sadiku, a southern Albanian, lives less than 10 minutes on foot, but a few years ago he was afraid to dare to go.

"I did not know how everyone here would talk to me or think about me," Sadiku, 19, says. "I was really nervous."

On the other side of the river, Serbian Lazar Rakic ​​meets NBC News near an illustrated Vučiç's billboard shaking hands with Putin. The accompanying graffiti in the Cyrillic alphabet reads: "There is no retreat here," a categorical warning for anyone who hopes the local ethnic group can give up control. Lazar Rakich.

we showed that we can not be a multiethnic society and we can never be, because of the strong national feelings here, "says Rakich, 30, "I wish it was possible, you know, but I have to be realistic."

Rakić sees land exchange as the only escape from a toxic status quo.

"Is it problematic? Yes, that's true I am terrible like someone who lives here Yes, I am terrified If there are shots they will go through my head," he says. "What is happening with Serbs living in Kosovo but outside the zones given to Serbia?" Many of them fear that they will become even worse, a minority settled in an ethnic Albanian state with decreasing rights, defending their language, parliamentary representation and security

The picture is not quite dark After crossing the bridge for the first time, the Albanian adolescent Sadikou joined the Mitrovica rock school, an internationally funded initiative that helped young people form ethnic groups, and its group, Electraheart, played a dreamlike, complicated pop music and included Serbian and Albanian among its members

Tringa Sadiku at the Rock School in Mitrovica Armend Nimani / for NBC News

"I personally am not going to meet a Serbian community until I join the rock school, because my family and friends said it was not very nice to is doing, she says, surrounded by a wall of guitars and amplifiers in one of the cold, underground practices of the school. spaces. "But now music connects everything, and music is our primary language."

Many of the younger generation have the same spirit. In Pristina, three students talk about a cigarette and beer policy at the local pub.

"Albanians and Serbs have no problems with each other, that's the politicians they are doing," says one Kosovo Albanian engineering student who asked not to be baptized because he feared repression by nationalists. "I have a Serbian friend and work together in a call center." I never thought I would make a Serbian friend, but I learned that it does not matter who you are. "

His wish for Serbia's recognized independence from Kosovo is no less strong. "This region is like a family," he says, "you are all together, but everyone needs their own room, their own space."

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