On 28 June 1991, the Yugoslavian Federation fell off the wall. The Humpty-Dumpty of nations shattered into pieces, and years of civil war and domestic conflict blighted the now-independent countries of Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia. As the decade of the 1990?s waned, the Americans and their NATO allies helped in the continued destruction of Yugoslavia by assisting an ethnic Albanian minority to claim land and independence from what remained of Tito?s Cold War creation.

The Gulf War was still being celebrated during the final days of June 1991. Few people, especially Americans, paid any attention to Yugoslavia. Your correspondent was among the ignorant, reporting on the events in the Middle East and ignoring the crisis brewing in the Balkans until a fateful train ride on 28 June 1991.

The International Train

An old German woman sat comfortably in her seat, paring an apple with a small knife. It was lunchtime. She had boarded the train in Athens, and was sharing her six-passenger compartment with only one other person. They were traveling north through Southeastern Europe, destination Munich. The old woman was a survivor of a previous European war, the ?good one? known as World War II. She had suffered, her family had suffered and the memories were fresh in her mind when the train conductor stepped into the compartment and warned the two passengers of ?trouble?. The train had entered Yugoslavia, war had erupted and the borders closed. The eyes of the old German woman widened, her jaw stiffened and she stopped slicing into her apple. The knife was held tightly in her fist, and she backed herself into the corner of the compartment. The woman, aware of the effects of ethnic hatred, knew what was about to happen in Yugoslavia. Her response to the news of trouble was indelibly imprinted on the mind of her traveling companion, yet her odd reaction only made sense when the insanity of the war in Yugoslavia was revealed during the brutal and bloody years that followed. Many other people would cower in corners when the killers of Yugoslavia went on the prowl.

Hitler Man

Duga Resa was a tourist destination before war broke out between Croatia and Serbia in 1991. The small town is located south of Zagreb; a hotel sits atop a hill overlooking fields, forests and homes with red-tiled roofs. In 1993, one of the few guests of the hotel was a drunken Croatian who introduced himself to a visiting reporter as ?Hitler Man?. Paunchy, aging, bleary-eyed and dressed all in black, Hitler Man was a poor example of those fighting for Croatian independence. His battles were with the bottle, but his dedication was similar to that of the soldiers on the frontlines: the Serbs are evil, and they must die.

The reporter, Hitler Man and a Croatian military officer were the only guests at the hotel, and the only diners in its large restaurant. The three men shared a table. Food was served, and the brandy flowed freely. Hitler Man told stories of the good old days when Germany and Croatia were allied in a different war, but with the same Serbian enemy. The joys of killing, of cleansing, of racial purity were told in a drunken slur, but the meaning and message were as clear as the moonshine guzzled by the Hatfields and McCoys, those gun-happy, revenge-minded neighbors who dribbled blood on American soil many years ago.

Hitler Man was talking on a cool spring evening in 1993. A cease-fire was in place, but the killing never stopped. The soil of Croatia was drenched with the blood of thousands of innocents. Two and a half years later, the Croatians would drive most of the Serbs from their home and villages. Dreams of the future, based on memories of the past, would become a reality. This time, this war, the Croatians won. Heil, Hitler Man.

The Reporter

The war in Slovenia almost ended before the Athens to Munich train crossed through Yugoslavia in June 1991. The war in Croatia was fought from 1991 to 1995. In 1992, another piece of Yugoslavia fell off the wall into despair and warfare. The conflict in Bosnia exploded with an intensity that finally focused the world?s attention on the bloodbath in the Balkans. The killing was multi-ethnic and the destruction widespread. Sarajevo was under siege and hundreds of villages were burned to the ground. In southern Bosnia, on a wet and rainy day in early October of 1993, a reporter paid his fare and rode a bus into the rubble of Mostar.

The reporter wanted to get a photograph of the famous old bridge of Mostar. He walked from the bus stop toward the sounds of battle. Exploding mortars and artillery shells were deafening. The crackle of small-arms fire grew more intense near the Neretva River, the waterway that separated the feuding Croats, Muslims and Serbs.

Within minutes, his presence was known and the reporter was arrested on the street. He was taken to the river and surrounded by a group of soldiers who, upon realizing that a journalist had landed in their midst, ignored the mortars that were impacting the ground nearby. They peppered the reporter with questions: Why was the reporter in Mostar? Why was he so near the fighting? Why was he so stupid?

After destroying the reporter?s film, and dignity, the frontline soldiers turned their attention back to the enemy shooting guns, and sent the enemy shooting photographs off to jail. It would take hours of interrogation, a release, and a second arrest the next day before the reporter took the hint, and the bus, leaving Mostar and the war in Bosnia. Lady Luck followed him out of town.

The old bridge of Mostar finally fell a few days later. And, tragically, so did two young American journalists who wandered into Mostar after their colleague had departed. They were killed in action while reporting on an old bridge that had come to symbolize the wars in Yugoslavia.

"We Will Kill Them All" In 1995, after the Croats cleansed the Krajina of Serbs and the Serbs cleansed Srebrenica of Muslims, the international community cleaned up its act and forced the warring parties to gather for peace talks in Dayton, Ohio. The wars in the former Yugoslavia came to an end. The various factions acquiesced to the demands of NATO and the United States, and the killing of ethnic enemies stopped.

Not long afterwards, the interest of the international community also ended. Croatia and Bosnia have struggled with a tenuous peace for over six years, but the lack of fighting on the frontlines pushed news of Yugoslavia off the front pages. The embers of ethnic hatred catching fire in the hills west of Pristina, Kosovo were ignored.

In 1997, a small group of ethnic Albanians in the province of Kosovo ignited another round of fighting in Yugoslavia. In February of 1998, the massacre of scores of Albanians caught the attention of a reporter who had covered the earlier wars in Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia. By March, the reporter was in Kosovo (and, yes, he arrived there after a long, tiring bus trip). At first glance, few signs of a military occupation were apparent. Life for the Albanians seemed normal: stores and shops were open, people filled the streets and the cafes served up hot Turkish coffee and fiery Balkan brandy. However, as the reporter approached the hills of Drenica, the alleged stronghold of the Kosovo Liberation Army, the presence of the Serbian military was hard to miss. Checkpoint. Checkpoint. Tank. Checkpoint. There was a war in Kosovo, but it was being played out on a small, confined battlefield. The Serbian military was in control. Kosovo was occupied, and the armed struggle was being fought by a small group of rebels who, although they had little chance of success, had the courage of true believers. A few weeks later, in the peaceful Kosovo town of Prizren, the reporter was taken on a tour of cobblestone streets, minarets and ancient ruins. The tense atmosphere of Drenica did not exist in Prizren, but the beliefs of the people were the same as the rebels of the KLA. The reporter asked his young guide a question: What would happen to the Serbs who lived in Kosovo if the KLA did manage to win their war?

His answer was prophetic. "They must leave, or we will kill them all".

Ethnic Cleansing

The low-intensity conflict in Kosovo continued during the year 1998. The KLA killed a few Serbs. The Serbs killed a lot of Albanians. The Serbian police and military retained control, and the international community paid scant attention during the brief flare-ups. The fighting in Kosovo rarely made the news.

Until Racak. In January of 1999, more than 40 Albanians were killed in Racak, Kosovo. How they died has been disputed, but the United States used the deaths as a pretext to escalate the confrontation between Serbs and Albanians. Two months later, after failed negotiations with Slobodan Milosevic, NATO?s air force allied itself with the ground troops of the KLA and the conflict in Kosovo matured into a full-scale war.

Tens of thousands of refugees fled the fighting between the KLA and the Serbian military. The bombing by NATO made their escape a hazardous journey. Border areas surrounding Kosovo were inundated with old men, women and children. They were forced into squalid camps where food, water and medicine were scarce.

Journalists arrived from around the world. This latest Balkan war was now news. The reporter who had interviewed the young guide in Prizren was standing on a hill overlooking one of the refugee camps in Macedonia. He was searching for a story, and thought that another interview with the guide would be interesting and informative. ?Killing (or cleansing) them all? could be done by either side in a war, and the young Albanian might now understand the difference between words and actions. Like many Serbs and Albanians, though, that story died a quick death.

After 78 days of bombing and fighting, the government of Yugoslavia surrendered and the war in Kosovo came to an end. NATO forces entered Kosovo to the cheers of Albanians and the jeers of Serbs. The refugees returned to their destroyed homes and villages. The two groups were separated, and the next round of ethnic cleansing began.

The words of the young guide were indeed prophetic, and the actions of his fellow Albanians were vicious. Serbs were killed and cleansed with impunity during the first months of occupation by NATO forces, and the few remaining Serbs were trapped in small, scattered enclaves.

NATO created a police force manned by the KLA veterans, and filled the towns and villages of Kosovo with well-armed soldiers from many nations. Unfortunately, they were less capable than their Serbian counterparts. The killing that occurred in Kosovo during the Serbian military occupation in 1997, 1998 and 1999 did not stop. Since the end of the war between NATO and Yugoslavia, the deaths of innocents in Kosovo have continued unabated. The blood dripping on the ground remains red, but the ethnicity is now Serbian.

Camp Bondsteel

For almost two years, Serbs have been killed and cleansed by the Albanians of Kosovo. NATO soldiers have been ineffective at peacekeeping, and have ignored many instances of injustice. The borders between Kosovo and Serbia, and Kosovo and Macedonia, have become the newest killing grounds in the Balkans.

Albanians, encouraged by their ?victory? in Kosovo, are now attempting to forcibly take land from Serbia and Macedonia. The small group of disaffected rebels from the hills of Drenica has established a new entity, an independent Kosovo that is destined to expand. This group, once incapable of fending off the Serbian military in a small area of Kosovo, has grown into a formidable fighting force.

This new Balkan scenario is one that would be familiar to the people who lived in the Levant during the Crusades. The various factions and religions of the Levant fought and feuded amongst themselves for centuries. Power and turf were continuously exchanged, and the lives of Jews, Christians and Muslims ebbed and flowed during the good times and the bad times. The ugly times arrived along with the Christian Crusaders from western Europe. The land, and the life that sprang from its rocky soil, did not interest the Crusaders. They would ride into an area of the Levant, subdue and kill the inhabitants, then build huge castles where they could hide from the fury and revenge of the people. The moral superiority and power of the Crusaders allowed them to stay safe behind the walls of their fortresses, looting the surrounding countryside at will.

In Kosovo, in the year 2001, the modern-day Crusaders of NATO have built another castle. It is named Camp Bondsteel, a tough-sounding name for a not-so-tough military force. It is located in southern Kosovo, only a few miles from the borders with Macedonia and Serbia where Albanians are now continuing their war of aggression against Serbs and Macedonians under the watchful (and nearby) eyes of NATO.

Camp Bondsteel is an American military base. It was created in the image of small town America, and features bowling alleys and fast food restaurants where young soldiers go to relax after a hard day of observing the killing of innocents. And, although its perimeter is made of steel, and not the stones of the Levant, it is as secure against the wrath of the people as were the castles of the Crusaders.

The Europeans would eventually tire of maintaining the castles spread out through the Levant. They grew weary of being the enemy of all the people, and withdrew after satiating themselves on the blood and fortune of their many foes. The Europeans would continue building castles, and they would go on to fight each other for centuries. However, they did not leave a lasting peace when they left the Levant.

Camp Bondsteel might not last as long as some of the Crusader castles that remain standing in the Levant, and its historical value will be dubious. But, the end result will be the same: the occupying outsiders will leave and the people who live on the land (not behind walls) will continue on with their lives. They will fight and they will love. They will kill and they will heal. They will eventually create a lasting and honorable peace. The killing and cleansing will stop. The broken pieces of a Humpty-Dumpty nation will only be a fading memory. And, if history is as good a guide (and prophet) as the young Albanian in Prizren, the United States, Britain and all the other King?s horses and men of NATO will not be the ones to put Yugoslavia back together again.

James T. Phillips is a freelance journalist who has reported on the wars in Yugoslavia since 1991. I also developed and edit the web publication warREPORTS.com. He will be returning to the Balkans in a few weeks to do a series of follow-up articles on the current situation in Croatia, Bosnia, Kosovo and Macedonia. James T. Phillips can be emailed at james@jtpREPORTS.com.