HeadLine: FIVE MINUTES FROM SAFETY
Daily Record, 19/04/199, p6&7
by Shaun Milne, at the Kosovo border.
AS he staggered across the border in the early hours yesterday carrying the bloodied body of his son, he cut one of the most poignant figures of this whole Kosovo mess.
Five minutes earlier, Ibush Berisha had assured his terrified children they were nearly safe after 36 torturous hours driving from Serbia to Albania.
Then, yards from safety, he put his foot down to overtake a tractor and reach the border quicker.
He veered slightly off the road and the car exploded into pieces killing his wife, three of his children and their grandmother. He had hit a Serb landmine.
Even by the heart-breaking tragedies of this bloody conflict, this story is a dreadful one.
A family uprooted by Serbs living in fear of their lives, crammed in a small car for hours, their bid for freedom ripped away five minutes from safety.
When Ibush, 43, collapsed into the arms of border guards with his son, he was speechless with shock. He kept stroking his son and saying his name as he wept.
His brother, who was travelling in a tractor behind, brought over the body of his sister-in-law, Hajrije, wrapped in a blanket.
The family were ordered to leave the other bodies lying next to the wreckage of the white Lada.
Brother Adem, 40, said: “We had stopped not very long before we reached the border and all Ibush could talk about was how we would reach freedom soon.
“He kept telling his children, ‘Be strong and don’t worry. I will look after you and get you to safety’.”
Even the border guards who have grown used to the terrible sights of weeping refugees daily passing them, were stunned by the tragedy.
Ibush was driving his mother Nazmije, 63, Hajrije and their children, Lavdije, 15, Flamur, 13, Besnik, 11 and 10-year-old Driton, who was handicapped.
Adem said: “Ibush was in front of us. We were moving slowly towards the Serb checkpoint when we heard a huge explosion. We thought NATO were bombing.
“My cousin was driving and he saw Ibush go slightly off the road. There was a white flash and the car was catapulted into the air. I jumped out and saw the car. Ibush was standing looking at the bodies of his family.
“Everyone was thrown out. There was blood everywhere.
“We heard moaning from Bresnik and we picked him up. Ibush tried to lift up his wife and we helped him putting her on a blanket in the back of the trailer.
“He tried to pick up his other children but the Serbs told us to go on because of the mines. We had to leave them.
“Ibush could hardly speak, his face was covered in blood but he was drained of colour.
“He picked up his son wrapped in a blanket and they were allowed through.
“He finally reached Albania but I think he would rather he had died than have crossed the border like this.”
Ibush and Besnik were flown to a hospital in Tirana where facilities are better than in nearby Kukes.
Two brothers Regjep and Nysret Gerguri, who were in the tractor, were injured and taken to hospital.
Yesterday, the three-year-old wreck of the Lada could be seen lying upended on the Yugoslav side of the border.
The bodies of Ibush’s family were thought to be inside. The whole border area has been planted with landmines and even the Serbs will be reluctant to approach the car and retrieve them.
Hajrije, 35, was lying in a makeshift morgue, a white medical tent near the checkpoint on the Albanian side.
Adem’s relatives were waiting at the border yesterday too shocked to move on.
Twenty of them left Bardh i Madh, near Kosovo’s capital Pristina, on Friday afternoon after Serb forces ordered them to move out.
The UN High Commission for Refugees warned aid agencies to stay away from the border yesterday.
A spokesman said: “We are still investigating what has happened. We cannot confirm if it is a landmine or a mortar bomb.”
Meanwhile, aid workers, bracing themselves for a new influx of refugees, warned facilities at Kukes were at breaking point.
Nearly 30,000 refugees have crossed into northern Albania in the last two days and the queue for the border is at least 10 miles long.
There are around 200,000 on the move inside Kosovo and 100,000 are making their way towards Albania.
The population of Kukes has nearly quadrupled from 30,000 to 112,000.
There are now about 100,000 refugees living in and around the town in camps and on wasteground.
Chris Preston, Oxfam water engineer, said: “There is already a terrible water shortage. We are trying to open up two springs but if we can’t it will push us beyond breaking point.”