Liberation Of Kosovo: Withdrawal: Civilians are `turned back by police'

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The Independent Online
THE LAST Serbian forces occupying Kosovo, joined by some 50,000 civilian Serbs, had left the province by yesterday, beating their Nato- imposed deadline by 11 hours and prompting the Alliance Secretary-General, Javier Solana, to announce a formal end to the bombing of Yugoslavia.

A small convoy of tank transporters was allowed to re-enter Kosovo, but only to collect heavy equipment left stranded in the week-long retreat.

On Saturday the Serb authorities broadcast an emotional appeal on state television, asking Serbs fleeing Kosovo to return home within 48 hours.

However, even as some Serbs returned others, driving over-loaded tractors, horse-drawn carts and cars, sped north past the city of Mitrovica, heading for Serbia.

"It is not far now until Raska - and freedom," said one elderly man whose trailer had broken down by the roadside. The border is marked only by an Orthodox cross - no sign, no Yugoslav troops, no K-For soldiers. But a few kilometres inside Serbia, a police checkpoint turned back western journalists. There were unconfirmed reports that they were also turning back civilian Serbs. Others have been told to camp in parking lots and fields until their return can be organised.

Around 200 Kosovo Serbs protested in Belgrade about their treatment yesterday but were jeered by locals. "You burned other people's houses and now it is time to pay," one man shouted.

Meanwhile, in Mitrovica, angry Serbs barred the way to local Albanians, shouting curses and threats at those who pushed through the crowd. Tensions are running high between the two groups, with at least one Serbian woman beaten by Albanians seeking revenge for the past.

French K-For soldiers said they could only escort Albanians home to the mixed district, but not guarantee their safety.

Close to the border, in the town of Leposavic, 300 gypsies are camped in a school, assisted by the Yugoslav Red Cross, after being forced to leave the town of Vucitrn. Although gypsies lived easily with Albanians before the Nato bombing, many helped the Serbs locate and loot Albanian houses, bury victims and do other dirty work. "The KLA pushed us out of our houses at gun-point yesterday. We were very afraid and because of that we grabbed everything we needed and came here," said Feti Hamushi.