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War-struck region begins to climb steep path to recovery

NCE chief reporter Matthew Jones is the first technical journalist to enter Kosovo. He crossed the border less than three days after the Serb withdrawal and filed the following report from Kosovan capital Pristina.

APPROACHING the Deneral Jankovic border crossing between Macedonia and Kosovo the winding mountain road is clogged with refugees and NATO vehicles heading slowly north. According to the International Organisation for Migration more than 40% of Kosovan refugees in Macedonia are planning to return home as soon as possible. Already the rate of return has reached 12,000 a day.

What they will find when they get home is an eerie country where time seems to have stood still. On the drive into Pristina the grass has grown long and the streets are still largely deserted apart from armed patrols of NATO soldiers and packs of hungry dogs. Smashed cars litter the countryside and kilometres upon kilometres of white tape lines the roads to indicate minefields. Selected houses, shops and factories have been burned by the Serbs - either to intimidate the ethnic Albanians into leaving or to destroy Serb homes as they flee into Yugoslavia. Some of the gutted buildings also bear the pock marks of machine gun fire and are daubed in racist graffiti.

In Pristina itself, more serious damage can be witnessed. In the south west of the city a fuel depot has been completely destroyed by NATO bombs. Four 3000m3 storage tanks lie in pieces. Such was the force of the blast that two vans have been thrown onto the roof of a two-storey building.

The nearby Kuptina Barracks, which hosted a brigade of Serbian soldiers, has been almost totally flattened. Every building in the vast complex has collapsed or is uninhabitable due to structural damage or the risk of unexploded bombs.

But though the damage has been significant, it is less than that witnessed in Bosnia. Infrastructure such as roads, bridges, power and water supplies have escaped relatively lightly. The difficulty in the coming months will be keeping them running and maintained.

Twenty-five-year-old civil engineer Lt. Gareth Evans of the Royal Engineers was killed in Kosovo on Monday when the NATO cluster bombs that he was helping to destroy exploded. Evans joined the REs in 1997 after graduating from Exeter University with a degree in civil engineering. Evans was deployed to the Balkans two weeks ago.

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