The abduction of Zarko Spasic has sent fear rippling through Sibovac, a village whose placid setting in the hills north of Pristina masks centuries of ethnic tension in Serbia's Kosovo province.
Spasic, a 35-year-old driver for the Belacevac coal pit, disappeared Thursday evening short-ly after setting off to pick up shift workers in a Russian four-wheel drive vehicle.Neither he nor the car have been seen since. Fearing the worst, the man's family and friends are plead-ing for word of Zarko's fate.
"I want my son back, dead or alive. Not knowing what's happened to him is driving me and his mother insane," said the missing man's father, Miodrag, 58.
"It has been four days now without a word. If he is dead, give me his body. If he is alive, let me speak to him. I am asking anyone, everyone for help."
The number of deaths and disappearances in the southern Serbian province of Kosovo has surged in recent months.
Armed ethnic Albanian insurgents of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) have stepped up attacks on Serbian police who are responding in kind.
Ninety percent of Kosovo's 1.8 million people are ethnic Albanians, most of whom yearn for independence from harsh Serbian rule. The province's minority Serbs are equally desperate for Belgrade to hold the line against separatists.
KLA and police units clash daily with casualties on both sides. But even more frightening to Serbs and ethnic Albanians alike is the sharp increase in brutal attacks on apparent non-combatants by people unknown.
Each abduction, each murder, ratchets the horror a notch higher, slowly eliminating the neutral ground to which a civil society might cling.
The village of Sibovac has about 290 houses, all but seven of them ethnic Albanian. Of the seven Serb homes, three belong to members of the Spasic clan, whose headstones dominate the local Serb cemetery.
Zarko, a father of four and a family man respected for his decency by every Albanian interviewed in the village, may well have been the victim of a KLA attack, an example to the few Serbs living in Sibovac that it is time for them to leave.
It would not be the first attack of that kind. A young Serb postman was abducted two weeks ago while waiting for a train west of Pristina. Police found his badly mutilated body, throat slit and an eye gouged out, in a field a day later.
The postman is presumed to have been a victim of the KLA. Or he might have run foul of criminal gangs now thriving on the illicit trade in cigarettes, alcohol, drugs and women in the former Yugoslavia.
Those obvious explanations for the disappearance of Zarko Spasic have occurred to virtually everyone who cares about the case - which seems not to include the police or the missing man's employer, both of whom have yet to visit his family.
Other, darker, possibilities are also being mooted.
The missing man's father, Miodrag, said residents in the area where his son went missing last Thursday remember seeing three Land Rovers sitting off the road with their lights dimmed about the time he would have passed by to pick up shift workers.
Miodrag assumes the vehicles were somehow involved in his son's abduction.
Reporters who have traveled extensively in Kosovo have never seen KLA members driving Land Rovers, distinctive off-road vehicles favored by foreign journalists and Serbian state security forces.
Then there was the attack on Zarko's uncle's house in Sipovac two months ago, shortly after clashes between Serbian police and ethnic Albanian separatists began intensifying.
Someone threw a bomb onto the elderly man's roof, blowing a gaping hole in it but injuring no one.