THE DEADLINE for Albanian-speaking students in the Serb province of Kosovo to return to the state university system has been overtaken by the latest outbreak of civil unrest and allegations of ethnic cleansing.
Since direct rule from Belgrade was imposed in 1990, Kosovar Albanian hopes have focused on the issue of Albanian-taught education.
Now, just as that problem seems to have been resolved with the promise that Albanian academics and students would be back in all faculties of the University of Pristina by the end of June, violence has erupted on an unprecedented scale.
"I call on the Albanian state to break down the border and intervene militarily in Kosovo, where the Kosovo Liberation Army is resisting the enemy," a 24-year-old woman student from Kosovo was quoted in the Albanian daily, Gazeta Shqiptare.
The student had just arrived in neighbouring Albania after a 53-hour trek to safety. Except for young boys and the occasional grandfather, there are virtually no males among the refugees. The men are staying to fight, the paper said.
The irony is heightened by the fact that the Kosovar Albanian students (who for the past seven years have attended classes in private homes and other makeshift premises) have always advocated a strictly non-violent campaign to recover their classrooms from Serbian "occupation".
Serb reluctance to implement the St Egidio agreement signed in August 1996 to resolve the education issue was one of the grievances that led to the forming, last winter, of the guerrilla army.
After a Serbian security operation against villages said to be sheltering the KLA had focused world attention on Kosovo in February this year, the Serbs were urged to show their good intentions by allowing the Kosovar Albanians to be taught in their mother-tongue in the state system. The Serbian authorities eventually complied, but, it would seem, too late.
The concession was also contested by Serbian students at Pristina who were last month ordered from parts of the university as ethnic Albanian academics took possession of buildings.
As governments and international bodies discuss the possible response to the crisis, while the Pope appeals for peace and the UN frames resolutions, Kosovo burns and refugees stream over the borders or into the mountains, and the Serbian promise to restore Albanian-taught education rings hollow.