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In the Vietnam War, An American officer knee-deep in ruble remarked to a reporter: "We had to destroy the village to save it." In Kosovo, that unintended irony resounds on a grand scale.

After a methodical bombing by NATO that defeated Serbs by firing their frustration with a slow, steady flame, a whole province collapsed. Mass physical destruction is secondary to human wreckage beyond repair.

NATO targets included bridges, communication centers and public buildings now badly needed. The Serbs burned city centers, villages and countless homes.

But if Kosovo was destroyed, Kosova is arising in its place. Departing Serbs took with them not only their version of the province's name but also the historic domination of an ethnic Albanian majority.

In every direction, former refugees are cleaning up the mess. And virtually anyone who pauses to talk echoes the same point: A reborn Kosova must be ethnically cleansed, but at the other extreme from that sought by Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.

"Maybe before all this we might still have lived together in peace," Said Gani Krasniqi, an ethnic Albanian standing in a pasture where he hopes wandering cows will eventually find land mines. "Not now. I no longer want to see any Serb, in any form."

Krasniqi was visiting the tiny old graveyard in the village of Crna Luka - a few fancy marble stones inside iron railings. He had just dug a fresh, deep hole nearby for the charred remains of 27 family members and friends.

When NATO troops ran off Serb paramilitary units, Krasniqi came down from the mountains where he had hid for two months. He found Serbs had turned part of his house into a do-it-yourself crematorium.

Serbs had shot women and children against a wall, then burned the buildings around them. A dozen victims were between the ages of 2 and 15, Krasniqi said. Blackened soles of tiny shoes still lie in the debris.

After waiting three weeks for war crimes investigators who were busy elsewhere, he shifted the rubble himself and buried what bones he could find. The same grave contains his brother and three nephews, who were executed separately.

"If they were to kill me, I might understand," he concluded. "I'm a grown man. But babies, little children, woman? These animals have no trace of human in them. Maybe some Serbs are not bad. But I don't want to see any of them."

Kosovo Serbs did much of the killing, Krasniqi said.

Survivors across Kosovo agree. But NATO sources say mounting evidence supports charges against Milosevic - that an ethnic cleansing policy planned in Belgrade was implemented by the Yugoslav army.

Although some estimate a death toll near 10,000, statistics are still only guesswork. Even harder to measure is damage to the living from a deliberate campaign of psychological terror.

At the special police headquarters in Pristina and in remote outposts the torture tools, baseball bats, pornography and graffiti in victim's blood left behind in flight suggest a paradise for sadists.

The next steps remain to be determined.

Under accords that stopped hostilities, Kosovo remains as an autonomous province of Serbia, Yugoslavia's main republic. It has no government, and the only police is done by NATO soldiers from a handful of countries.

Some towns and villages are crumpled beyond recognition. Other parts escaped with only peripheral damage. Power and communications function only sporadically. Roads are pitted, with some crucial bridges in ruins.

But many ethnic Albanians like 24-year-old Shefget Pulaj, have some unfinished business before they can help put what was Kosovo back together again.

Each dawn, in a Kosovo Liberation Army uniform, Pulaj picks his way through the mine fields on the mountain near the Albanian border post at Morini in search of a house he had watched with binoculars from the other side.

"We saw Serbs take refugee women up there, many women," he said. "And they never turn up again. Probably they were killed and left there. Who Knows? But if they are on the mountain, I will find them."

Pulaj, with a mild-mannered look despite his camouflage fatigues, scows at putting the past behind.

"When you see what I've seen, you want to kill 500 of those bastards with your own hands," he said.

Ruza Murisic, an old women in Urosevac, was among the few Serbs who had planned to stay put even if Kosovo changed its final vowel - to the Albanian language Kovova. When her Albanian neighbor fled the Serb onslaught, she kept his key and strenuously protected his home.

After the tables turned, the neighbor tried to return the favor. But Albanian toughs bent on blind revenge and looting beat him to death for sticking up for a Serb. Murisic fled north the same day.

Marta Miric, 73, living near Pec, missed the last bus to Serbia. She settled in to hope for the best. Then two young Albanians came to loot. When one of them took three towels, she grabbed for them. He whacked her hard with a stick.

Incensed, the two men seized her 35-year-old daughter, Marica. They bound her wrists and stripped her naked.

"They blindfolded me, but I could hear what they did to her, and all she could do was whimper, "Mama, Mama,'" Miric said, weeping softly. Before the men left, they slit her throat.

Broken, Marta Miric waits with two dozen other Serbs in the lush old gardens of the Orthodox monastery at Pec, protected by an Italian tank until the ride to Montenegro arrives.

In many places, vengeful Albanians who cannot find Serbs settle for their saints and symbols. At the squat stone Orthodox chapel in Suva Reka, for instance, richly painted icons. smolder in a pile of smashed carved wood.

Shards of glass cover a Bible splayed on the ground.



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