Conflict leaves bitter aftertaste;Briefing;International

6th August 1999 at 01:00
Kosovo. DURING the Kosovo war, Mustafa Bakija elementary school, in the south-western town of Djakovica, was taken over by Serb police following NATO's bombing of their headquarters in late March.

Two teachers, the school doctor and the caretaker were killed. Computers were stolen, medical equipment was damaged and graffiti scrawled on the walls.

But the signs to the town have now been rewritten in Albanian and Mustafa Bakija school is full of children trying to catch up on the 66 school days lost during the campaign of ethnic cleansing.

Headteacher Iliaz Daija said: "The teachers haven't been paid since September. But the most important thing for the children is socialising. So we decided to restart the school quickly."

It's a pattern that is being copied in 28 schools throughout the municipality.

The civil war left 800 of the town's 60,000 population dead and 2,000 of its shops and houses were burnt or destroyed.

The damage to the school is typical of that suffered by nearly half the schools in Kosovo. According to a survey by the United Nation's Children's Fund of 394 of the province's 1,000 elementary schools, 43 per cent were destroyed or severely damaged. More than 100 were burned and 17 were shelled. Nearly all needed repairs to doors and windows, almost half had to have new roofs and one in five needed new electrical systems.

After furniture was destroyed in looting raids, schools have asked for more than 41,000 desks, 81,000 chairs and 3,000 blackboards.

UNICEF has begun supplying thousands of notebooks, pencils, chairs and desks to schools across the province and will be working with other aid organisations to repair the school buildings.

Flaka Surroi, assistant project officer for UNICEF in Pristina, the capital of Kosovo, said: "We are committed to having all primary schoolchildren back in full-time education in September."

The UN has set up a joint commission to revive and integrate education, which was split between the Serbian state and parallel Albanian systems before the war.

Until a system of tax collecting is put in place there may be no way to pay teachers' wages. Before the war they were being supported by the voluntary payments from the Albanian community, but these people have lost their income and can no longer afford it.

There are psychological problems to deal with as well as physical destruction.

"The children are bit confused and aggressive," said Mr Daija. "Everyone has gone through a lot of emotional problems and trauma. Our village was one of the most destroyed and many children have had someone killed.

"My nephew is complaining about pain in the stomach - he doesn't know where his father is - and the doctor says it is mental. There are lots of cases like this."

TES readers have so far contributed more than pound;5,000 to UNICEF's work in Kosovo. To help the reconstruction work, send cheques payable to UNICEF to The TES Kosovo Appeal, UNICEF Room TES, Freepost, Chelmsford, Essex CM2 8BR

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