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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

KLA Fighters Take Over Pristina's Grand Hotel Bar




PRISTINA, Yugoslavia -- The Grand Hotel in Kosovo's capital seemed like an improbable target for a hostile takeover. Famous for surly service and immense bugs, the state-owned hotel has been one of the most visible symbols of the Yugoslav government's presence here. Its rooms have not been renovated f and some say cleaned f for years.


The government's propaganda machine churned out Serb-centered news in a second-floor suite and its intelligence agents operated from rooms on the fourth floor. For years, anyone in need of a policeman only had to look for one of the leather-coated plainclothesmen who spent the day lounging in the lobby drinking bitter coffee.


Until Sunday night.


As evening fell, drinks at the bar were free and served with a smile, courtesy of the Kosovo Liberation Army's Atlantic Brigade, a group of Albanian-Americans who left New York several months ago to fight for Kosovo's independence. They opened a new battleground Sunday night by seizing control of one of the last Serbian redoubts in the capital f the dimly-lit Grand Hotel bar.


New barman Frank Mehmeti, 24, a former party promoter in the Bronx, declared it a beachhead from which the KLA would capture the reception area Monday and the media center the following day. "We'll take this area over now. We're going to work our way up until we have the whole hotel," he said.


"Drinks on the house," he added. "Drink as much as you want."


The hotel director called British peacekeeping forces, who briefly tolerated an impromptu lobby party featuring loud Albanian folk music and line dancing by two dozen ethnic Albanians.


The troops escorted at least six Serbs f suspected of being Belgrade intelligence operatives f from the hotel.


Major Ian Seraph, a spokesman for British forces, said the hotel director had agreed to hold a meeting Tuesday on reintegrating ethnic Albanians into the hotel staff, including employees who were fired 10 years ago along with tens of thousands of other ethnic Albanians in numerous industries.


The mass firings were part of a campaign by Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to give Serbs and Serbian interests preference in Serbia. About 50 people now work at the Grand, virtually all of them Serbs.