Assault on the Serbs: Traumatised and tired, the refugees came in cart s, trailers and on foot

Kosovo Exodus

THE EXODUS began at 8am and by dusk there was still thousands of people crossing the rugged border into northern Albania from the battleground of Kosovo. They came in cars and tractor trailers, in horse-drawn carts and on foot. Men, women and children, victims of "ethnic cleansing" organised by the Serbian forces now looting and burning their homes.

Across the mined border were heavily armed police, Albanian soldiers on one side and Yugoslav forces 200m away. The village of Dobrushte was belching smoke and flames, evidence that it had been torched by Serbian soldiers.

The refugees were among tens of thousands of people who streamed over the border, exhausted, frozen and traumatised, a humanitarian disaster of epic proportions in modern Europe.

As President Slobodan Milosevic's security forces rampaged across Kosovo yesterday, ethnic Albanians poured into neighbouring Albania, Macedonia and Montenegro.

Some took flight voluntarily, seeking sanctuary; others were evicted at gunpoint from their homes by their neighbours and Serb paramilitaries and literally shoved over the borders.

The latest information to emerge from inside Kosovo is chilling. The killing sprees and random acts of savagery that were the Serbs' initial response to the Nato air attacks are being replaced by what is starting to be called genocide. The "ethnic cleansing" is determined and systematic.

Dozens of villages around the towns of Djakovica and Prizren have been cleared of Albanians and destroyed. And in the past 24 hours the Serbian machine has moved with a vengeance into the western town of Pec.

"They came into town, broke into apartments, and took everything they could," said Valdet Shoshi. "They said 'go'. They took away our cars and we left in trucks. Pec is empty, all the Albanians are gone."

He and other refugees from Pec said that Albanian-owned shops, homes and businesses had been vandalised and looted by Serbian forces and that soldiers were out of their barracks and camped out in Albanian-owned buildings. "It was army and police - criminals. They were wearing uniforms and black masks. They even searched our pockets and took all our money," said Mr Shoshi, who ran a pizzeria in Pec. "They were shooting inside, spraying the walls with bullets." He paused. "I don't know where my brother is." Similar stories were told by refugees fleeing villages in southern Kosovo.

"We were in the mountains hiding for three days because they burnt our houses," said Florija Rexhepi, who fled the village of Babaj Boks. "After three days we went to Djakovica to hand ourselves over to the Serbs."

She said the villagers decided to surrender because they had run out of food and were in a valley below a Serbian position. "We were afraid that if we didn't leave they would come and kill us all."

The villagers were stripped of all their money, their identity cards and their jewellery and the Serb soldiers at the border, in an act of spite, forced them to remove all number plates from cars and tractors and leave them behind. The villagers said that on the roads between Djakovica and Prizren they saw the bodies of at least 10 civilians lying by the roadside. As the tractor convoy moved towards the border, Yugoslav soldiers picked out men, pulled them out of the convoy and took them away. Their relatives do not know where they are.

They had also heard rumours of atrocities. "We heard all those who were sick and could not move have been killed," said Mr Shoshi. "We had not left our apartment since the Nato air strike began. They told us 'You asked for this: now get Nato to protect you'." There were plenty of eyewitness accounts of brutality and repression from refugees yesterday.

They told of kidnapping, looting and summary killings, of civilians being targeted in door-to-door raids, of machine-gunfire in the streets, of villages burnt to the ground. Thousands of men are said to have disappeared.

A middle-aged ethnic Albanian, wearing a traditional white felt hat, wept as he relived the trauma of his escape from the regional capital, Pristina. The nights were a time of terror when anything could happen, he said.

The ordeal of crossing the heavily mined border was too much for one woman, who fainted with shock when she arrived in Albania. A brother and sister near by said that their father had been shot in front of them by Serbs.

But the evidence is not just anecdotal. Officials from the Vienna-based Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) spoke by satellite telephone to commanders of the Kosovo Liberation Army at the weekend.

The commanders, whose accounts the OSCE regards as credible, described a mass killing near Velika Krusa, in southern Kosovo, the burning of large parts of Pec, and the use of civilians as human shields to deter Nato attacks on Serb military installations.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) predicted yesterday that more than 16,000 people would have entered Albania from Kosovo by the end of the day. The Albanian government says that 20,000 crossed on Saturday.

Braving snow and rain, smaller numbers of people also arrived in Macedonia, a tiny country which has already taken 20,000 refugees. They came mainly from border villages, which they said had been emptied and set ablaze by Yugoslav forces.

Lyndall Sachs, a spokeswoman for the UNHCR, said the numbers pouring into Albania suggested a mass flight was under way. "I would say 16,000 people crossing a border in a single day is a hell of a lot of people," she said.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
video
Life and Style
tech
Sport
Jodie Stimpson crosses the finishing line to win gold in the women's triathlon
Commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
News
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan stars as Christian Grey in the Fifty Shades of Grey movie
filmFirst look at Jamie Dornan in Fifty Shades of Grey trailor
Life and Style
Phillips Idowu, Stella McCartney and Jessica Ennis
fashionMcCartney to continue designing Team GB Olympics kit until 2016
Sport
Shinji Kagawa and Reece James celebrate after the latter scores in Manchester United's 7-0 victory over LA Galaxy
football
Sport
Farah returns to the track with something to prove
Commonwealth games
Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Biomass Sales Consultant

£20000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitment Company...

Java Developer

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My Client are a successful software hous...

Senior Analyst - Financial Modelling

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: This really is a fantastic chance to joi...

MS Dynamics NAV/Navision Developer

£45000 - £53000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: **MS DYNAMICS N...

Day In a Page

Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game