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Yugoslavia’s Ethnic Tensions Felt in Detroit Area

September 12, 1991

DETROIT (AP) _ The ethnic tensions that triggered Yugoslavia’s civil war have spilled over onto the streets of suburban Detroit, as rival gangs of Albanian and Serbian youths trade blows and bullets, police say.

Loosely organized groups of teen-agers have been fighting for some time in Sterling Heights, and the violence recently spilled over into neighboring Troy.

″They use the terms Yugos and Albos,″ Sterling Heights police Capt. Tom Derocha said Thursday. ″What we’ve got is teen-age kids who hang out with other kids who have the same background.″

Despite 13 drive-by shootings, only one serious injury has been reported - a man hit in the head with a bat Tuesday, authorities said. A carload of Albanian teen-agers mistakenly believed the Romanian-American was a ″Yugo.″

The Detroit area has been a mecca for southern and eastern European immigrants. Many settlers from Yugoslavia followed Polish immigrants and settled in the Detroit enclave of Hamtramck.

As they became more affluent, many Yugoslavian immigrants moved to Detroit’s northeastern suburbs.

″We’ve had Yugoslavian people for about a decade,″ Derocha said.

But the moves failed to shake deep ethnic hatreds among many of the immigrants and their descendants.

Albanians, who make up about 8 percent of Yugoslavia’s 23 million people, have fought for years for autonomy or independence from Serbia. Serbs make up about 36 percent of Yugoslavia’s population and are the nation’s largest ethnic group.

Ethnic violence this year has claimed hundreds of lives as Yugoslavia’s republics battle over land and power.

In suburban Detroit, Albanian and Serbian families settled in the same neighborhoods, and their children went to the same schools. A site for much of the conflict has been Sterling Heights High School. ″What started out as punching someone out on the playground has progressed to bats, wooden sticks and even firearms,″ said Troy police Lt. William Tullock.

Violence started to escalate in mid-July with a series of drive-by shootings in Sterling Heights. The city received 13 such complaints through the end of August, when heavy police patrols apparently ended the outbreak.

Some of the youths has shifted their battleground to nearby Troy, where Tullock said three attacks have been reported in recent weeks, none involving firearms.

Troy and Sterling Heights police said the youths are too loosely organized to be called gangs, though Hamtramck police report groups going by the names Yugo Boys Inc. and Albanian Boys Inc.

Police said efforts are under way to create understanding between the various Yugoslavian communities.

″In the meantime, we’re going to turn up the heat,″ Tullock said. ″We’re not used to the level of violence, and we’re not going to tolerate it.″

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