WAR IN THE BALKANS: Aid effort is getting close to meltdown

Ethnic Cleansing
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The Independent Online
HUMANITARIAN AID efforts in Macedonia appeared close to meltdown yesterday as the arrival of 20,000 refugees in 36 hours prompted the authorities to close the border. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees pleaded for more help.

Dennis McNamara, UNHCR special envoy for the region, began talks with the Albanian government aimed a persuading it to accept 60,000 more Kosovars from Macedonia. He said refugees may soon arrive at camps without shelter in what he described as a "least worst scenario".

During the past five days, Serbian forces have been sending three trains a day to the Blace border at the rate of 10,000 refugees every 24 hours. The latest arrivals are from Glogovac, Obilisk and Podujevo, areas which until now had not been ethnically cleansed.

"People talk of being forced from their homes and put on coaches to Pristina where they were packed into trains," said Paula Ghedini, a UNHCR spokeswoman. "We are picking up stories of atrocities and mass graves from people as they arrive."

The new arrivals are walking into a desperate situation. Camps are full to overflowing. The newest, Cegrane, which has been opened just five days, already has a population of 28,500 residents who have to share latrines at a ratio of 245 to one. The recognised limit in an emergency is 15 to one.

Across the border in Albania, despite UN efforts to move refugees south, the tent camps in Kukes are filled to the brim with Kosovars who refuse to leave the border area despite the threats posed by Albanian bandits and Serbian artillery.

A convoy of Nato vehicles trucking refugees south to new accommodation left half-empty, yet most camps in the area, built by several different governments as transit camps for 5,000 or so, are full of semi-permanent residents. The UN's attempts to coax the 120,000 Kosovars to move south have fallen flat, and still more pour in each day.

In what sounded like a warning that refugees could be stuck in Albania and Macedonia for the winter, Nato's Supreme Commander General Wesley Clark yesterday said that Nato and the other aid agencies must make "full provision for the realities of the terrible tragedy perpetrated against Kosovo Albanians... even when they're allowed to go home, life won't be normal for a while... so I think that we have to look very much ahead, past the summer, into the autumn, the winter and even the next spring."