War in Europe: No words can describe the anguish

SHE SAT trembling and whimpering, wide-eyed, a hunted expression, with no words to explain her anguish and fear. Suzana Bucaj, 22, had spent five weeks fleeing Serbian forces. Terrified, she was first forced to leave her village and then, more cruelly, to return to her ruined home.

In a white tent at the Morini border post, staff from Medecins du Monde prescribed pills for Suzana, hugged her and tried to uncover her story. But Suzana was so confused she could only whisper yes or no. Her father Zymer wiped away tears as he tried to comfort her.

Her anxious family waited at the border as dozens, hundreds, thousands of new refugees streamed past, their faces red from the broiling sun, brows dripping with sweat.

In just 36 hours, more than 20,000 Kosovar Albanians have crossed at Morini, the majority residents of Prizren, the handsome old Kosovar city designated a World Heritage Site by Unesco. Over the past few weeks, Serbian forces in the city have developed a pattern: enter an area, take an informal census, (how many men in each house), leave without causing problems, and then swoop down a few days later, arresting men aged 16 to 65. Numerous refugees have given accounts of this, naming men who had been taken away.

Xhafer Mehmeti's story was a familiar one. Two of his brothers were taken by the Serbs on different occasions and his mother, out looking for her sons, saw trucks carrying many men to the Prizren stadium. There they were apparently held for some hours, given uniforms, then spirited away at night.

Several refugees had spotted relatives and acquaintances abducted this way, now wearing the uniforms of the old Yugoslav National Army and digging trenches or minefields around Zur, Goran and Vermice, along the border with Albania.

"On the way here I saw a guy I know very well - he was in uniform and Nikes, no gun. Another guy with a machine-gun was standing next to him. This was 40 minutes ago, maybe 200 metres from the border," said Albatros Rexhaj, a journalist from Prizren. "He was taken from his house maybe three weeks ago." Mr Rexhaj did not want to name his friend, whose family are still in Prizren, but said the man approached his car on the pretext of asking for cigarettes. "He said in Albanian, 'Farewell, God go with you, I don't know my fate'."

Ali, who did not want to give his last name, had a similar tale. "In Zur we saw my wife's brother digging trenches - he was caught three weeks ago. He was also in that uniform."

Although it might not appear so from their odyssey around southern Kosovo, Mr Bucaj and his family have been luckier. They left Shiroka, a predominantly Serb village near the town of Suva Reka, more than a month ago, pushed out by Serbian forces who are thought to have killed more than 100 people in several different massacres in the area.

Zymer, his wife Sofia, mother Huma, son Jeton and Suzana moved from one place to another, chased on by fighting, until they reached the town of Prizren. At that point they were ordered to return to Shiroka, where the family home had been looted and trashed. "Everything was broken or stolen," Mrs Bucaj said. Suzana was broken too, finally pushed over the edge when her father was arrested by Serbs, who tried to make him sign away an absent neighbour's property: "I give this apartment as a gift to the Serbian police forces." The family appealed to a policeman they knew. He secured Mr Bucaj's release, and the family immediately left for Albania.

But for Suzana, the trauma goes on. "She speaks without making any sense, laughing or crying," Mrs Bucaj explained. As her husband said: "It is the fear. She was just so scared of the Serbs."