War In The Balkans: 30,000 refugees head to border

Aid Effort
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The Independent Online
ABOUT 30,000 ethnic Albanian refugees from Kosovo were reported moving towards the border with Macedonia last night, threatening to overwhelm anew the efforts of desperately pressed relief agencies to cope with the tide of human misery.

Macedonian state radio said a vast column was moving south from the town of Urosevac, 20 miles from the frontier. "The whole population of Urosevac and the villages around it is moving towards Macedonia," the announcer said.

The report could not be separately confirmed. But aid workers yesterday had a small foretaste of what might lie ahead, as they struggled to find accommodation in overcrowded camps for 3,000 refugees who had reached the border crossing of Blace by train and bus.

After a lull last week, yesterday was the third day running that 2,000 or more ethnic Albanians had arrived at Blace, suggesting that the Yugoslav President, Slobodan Milosevic, is once more using the refugees' plight to add to the chaos in the region, distracting Nato and further destabilising Macedonia.

If the radio reports are true, the column of refugees is another sign that Belgrade is trying to empty Kosovo of Albanians.

The United Nations estimates that more than 600,000 have been forced from their homes, with 500,000 or more uprooted within Kosovo. In the last available census, in 1991, the ethnic Albanian population of the province was 1.8 million.

The latest refugee crisis comes amid allegations of fresh Serbian atrocities, including the killing of 100 people in the village of Slavina, north of Urosevac, and the systematic shelling of towns to drive the people into a small area where they are starved.

Other reports speak of wholesale slaughter of livestock, presumably with the goal of rendering Kosovo uninhabitable for its population.

The Serbs are also said to be again using refugees as human shields to deter Nato pilots from attacking military targets.

A spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said women and children from Prizren in southern Kosovo had been held at an ammunition depot near the town, while their menfolk had been allowed to cross into Albania.

Yesterday Red Cross representatives were allowed to visit the three American soldiers captured by Yugoslav forces on 31 March. After a brief interview with them in Belgrade, Cornelio Sommaruga, chief of the International Committee of the Red Cross, said Andrew Ramirez, 24, of Los Angeles; Steven Gonzales, 21, of Huntsville, Texas; and Christopher Stone, 25, of Smiths Creek, Michigan, allseemed well.

Muslim states, meanwhile, are rallying to the plight of the Kosovo refugees.

Pakistan's Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, said he would visit Albania tomorrow to show support for the refugees. The United Arab Emirates said it would build an airport outside the Kukes, the northern Albanian town that has been inundated with refugees.

The airport, which is to be up and running in 10 days, will be able to receive 150 tons of aid a day. Saudi Arabia and Egypt have sent planeloads of food, tents and blankets.

In Lebanon, the Hizbollah guerrilla group - well known for its almost daily guerrilla attacks against Israeli troops in south Lebanon - launched a fund to help the refugees.