Three families of refugees tell supporters of their harrowing trek through the mountains of Kosovo

At first glance, Furtune Troni, clutching a bagel in one hand and a half-empty cup of McDonald’s orange drink in the other, acts like any other 10-year-old: staring at strangers from under her father’s elbow, playing with her braided hair, thoughtfully eating her food.

But on Sunday, when her father started talking about his family’s horrific 20-hour mountainous trek through Kosovo to the refugee camps in Macedonia, the slight girl ran from the room to vomit.

”Our children are very traumatized,” her father, Ilirjan Troni, explained later through a translator. ”They saw things that no child should have seen.”

Ilirjan Troni, his wife and their four children along with two other refugee families from the war-torn region spoke at a rally of 70 hushed and sometimes crying supporters Sunday in suburban Delray Beach.

The event at the South County Civic Center was organized by ARK, Aid and Reconstruction in Kosovo, to put a face on the suffering in Kosovo and help garner more support for the plight of its people, said Barry Silver, co-founder of ARK. The group was formed to provide a Jewish response to the humanitarian crisis in Kosovo in coordination with other religious and civic groups, Silver said.

The rally – falling on the heels of an announcement by NATO that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic had agreed to withdraw troops and police from Kosovo – also gave Kosovo supporters a chance to air their distrust of any peace efforts short of ridding Yugoslavia of Milosevic.

Shyret Lesku, who co-founded American Friends of Albania in 1968 with her husband, said NATO’s peace plan is not acceptable.

”All they want to do is send the Kosovo people back to get slaughtered again,” she said. ”I say ‘No.’ The only way we go back is with full independence and rights.”

Peace talks aimed at ending the war broke down early today, and NATO officials said the airstrike campaign against Milosevic would intensify.

Ilirjan Troni, who escaped from Kosovo with his family after all of the houses in his hometown of Kacanik were burned to the ground, said he still wants to go back once it’s safe.

”We would love to go back because that is our land,” he said. ”We were born there, we grew up there, generation after generation. That is our land. We will not give it up.”

Originally published on Monday, June 7, 1999 in the Palm Beach Post.