War in The Balkans: Charity bakers feed the thirty thousand

With the Volunteers
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AN INTREPID group of Britons and a volunteer Irish baker are determined to be among the first foreigners into Kosovo behind any intervention force, peaceful or otherwise.

They believe that bread will be the first thing that Kosovo's Albanians need once the borders are reopened by agreement, or by Nato force.

Using an eight-oven bakery provided by the British government, the London- based aid group War Child is already providing fresh bread to half the 30,000 Kosovars in refugee camps in the northern Albanian town of Kukes.

Within a few days, the group will be providing a loaf of bread a day, specially baked to Kosovars' taste, to every refugee man, woman and child.

But the aim is to break the bakery up into eight mobile units, to be carried on the back of low loaders, and cross into Kosovo to the most needy zones behind the first peace implementation troops, or invasion force, the moment the border is open.

"We've no idea what we'll find there. If the Serbs retreat, they may wreck everything," said Clare Furr, who is co-ordinating the project. "Mines and booby traps could be a problem but we'd be the first to go in behind the troops. These people are going to need us."

Bill Leeson, who suspended a career as an art documentary film-maker five years ago after being moved by the devastation in Croatia and then Bosnia, said: "We don't know whether the Serbs will have scorched the place." He led a similar project in the divided Bosnian city of Mostar during the worst of the Bosnian crisis.

The Kosovo project, funded by the United Nations World Food Programme, Britain's Department for International Development and private contributions, has won the resounding approval of the Kosovar refugees packed into tents in and around Kukes, who say its taste makes them feel at home.

That's because Tony Langan, a volunteer master baker on secondment from Sligo, Ireland, hired nine Kosovar bakers he found among the refugees in the camps.

"It gives them back some pride, to be working, but we pay them so it also helps them feed their families," said Ms Furr. "We've tried to get the right mix, the taste that Kosovars are used to, for example using refined salt we fly in rather than the sea salt used by Albanian bakers. In the camps, the refugees revolted against the local bread once they'd tasted ours."

Mr Langan volunteered after hearing a radio talk-show appeal in Sligo. He hopes to be among those going into Kosovo. "We could produce fresh bread within two hours of reaching a site with the mobile bakeries," he said.

The War Child team sleep in a tent next to the bakery, on a wasteland in the centre of Kukes. They appear immune to the stench of over-used latrines all around them, the shuddering sonic booms of passing Nato bombers, the nightly gunfire around town and the constant walkie-talkie warnings that the Serbs are shelling the border 16 miles away.

There was one such warning yesterday after the Serbs fired three mortar shells across the Morini border post, which landed in Albania some 400 yards from UN buses picking up the latest ragged refugees to cross.

The Serbs were apparently aiming at two haystacks as a gesture of defiance after a big Nato bomb sent up a giant plume of smoke about two miles behind them.