War in the Balkans: Macedonia - Serbs use `refugee warfare'

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NATO OFFICIALS said Slobodan Milosevic was waging "refugee warfare" after thousands of Kosovars poured into Macedonia, bringing new and horrifying reports of anarchy and barbarity in their homeland.

After 28,000 Kosovars arrived in the space of three days, alliance officials said the Serbian leader was using the deluge of people as a weapon to destabilise the Macedonian government, which is already confronting growing protests from a large and vocal pro- Serbian faction.

The latest exiles brought reports that were shocking even by the standards of this war. They described Kosovo as a land of fear, where squads of Serbian paramilitaries, often high on drugs, rape and loot at will. The cities have been emptied of most of their inhabitants and packs of dogs roam the empty streets, scavenging on dead bodies. There is little power and there is a shortage of food. The authorities have a deliberate policy of withholding what little supplies there are from the Kosovo Albanians.

Many refugees reported that weeks of mistreatment and semi-captivity suddenly ended with them being dispatched to the border in organised groups. The reports lend support to claims that the Serb authorities have orchestrated the expulsions, and that the Kosovars are not leaving to escape Nato bombs, as Belgrade claims.

One of the last acts of the Serbian soldiers was to stop the trains and convoys of buses carrying the Kosovars, and fleecing them of any money or valuables.

The refugees said the worst atrocities were being carried out by the so-called Tigers, a unit of paramilitaries led by the Serb warlord Zeljko Raznjatovic, whose nom de guerre is Arkan. Arkan's units - seasoned from the war in Bosnia from 1992-95 - fan out from their base at Kolovic, near Pristina, to bring terror to surrounding areas. They are described as shaven-headed, wearing red or black scarves, and are often drunk or high on drugs. The refugees accuse the Tigers of random, pointless killings. They say their activities have shocked even the Serbian police, who sometimes try to help the victims.

At the Stenkovec refugee camp, near Skopje, Ymer Gashi, a 20-year-old former student at Pristina University, told of a multiple murder committed, he said, by Arkan's men 10 days ago. "There was a man called Gani Berisha, he was a building engineer. He lived at Bledi in Pristina," said Mr Gashi. "Gani had two refugees staying with him when the Tigers came. He stood up to them, and they shot him and the other two dead. Gani was shot so many times in the face that his own family would have found it impossible to recognise him. We couldn't bury the bodies at the time. When we came back we found that dogs had got in and they had eaten Gani's left hand."

Idriz Duriqi, 42, a driving instructor from Bledi, spoke of the killing of a 65-year-old doctor, Isa Hyseni. Mr Duriqi said: "He was just getting to the gate of his home when they shot him in the back. His wife saw what happened and she started weeping. She was hysterical. But they would not let her get to the body.

"We knew they were Arkan's men, everyone is very scared of them. They come and kidnap girls, and take them away blindfolded. Some of them come back. We don't know what happens to the others."

Amira Hamadi said she was grateful to the local police in Pristina. She said: "Some masked Serbs in uniform came into our home. My mother and I managed to get out but they caught my sister. We could hear her screaming. One of the neighbours called the police and they came and freed my sister. We were lucky that time, and we knew it was time to leave."