War In The Balkans: Pristina Exodus - Serbs try for `final solution' in capital

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The Independent Online
SERB FORCES are turning Pristina into a ghost city after herding tens of thousands of Albanians on to the roads and more than 3,000 on to sealed trains, which were sent to Macedonia.

The emptying of Kosovo's capital of Albanians will add massively to the refugee burden falling on the neighbouring states, especially Albania, which has accepted more than 100,000 refugees since Nato air strikes began. About 24,000 Kosovars have fled into Macedonia and 20,000 to Montenegro, aid agencies said.

"Everything is empty in Pristina," said Sabri Hajzeri, 30, after she reached Morini in Albania. "You can't see a man anywhere in the street. The police went from house to house, saying, `You get out from this street'."

One woman who reached Montenegro told of what the Serb soldiers had done to her son, Nevzat, after they caught him listening to the news on the radio in his car. "They put a knife through his mouth and cut out his eyes," Kimete Kastarti said. "Then they cut open his stomach. He only went out because there was no electricity and he wanted to know what was going on."

Fatime Bekaya, a refugee in Morini, said: "All the outskirts of Pristina have been burnt." Paramilitaries were roaming the streets and killing people, she added. Islam Sogojeva said: "The population was afraid there would be a massacre and started leaving. Those who did not have cars left on foot. I would say 40 per cent of the people have left Pristina."

A teenage girl, Sebi, was choked with tears as she tried to explain what she had witnessed in Pristina. "It's very bad," she managed. "Yesterday they killed a little kid. They don't have any heart.

"Our neighbours came into our house and wanted to kill us. They told us to go away."

Nato's seeming failure to dent President Slobodan Milosevic's armoury has enabled the Serbs to overrun one of the last Albanian-held pockets in Kosovo yesterday, said diplomats. Kosovar fighters in the Paragusa valley, 30 miles south-west of Pristina, which harbours 50,000 refugees from other areas, had been crushed by the superior Serb firepower, they said. The defeat may trigger a massive new exodus of refugees.

President Milosevic again denounced Nato raids yesterday and pointedly promoted the commander of the Yugoslav army in Kosovo to the rank of colonel- general, the Yugoslav news agency Tanjug said.

Nebojsa Pavkovic, whose troops have overseen the torching and ethnic cleansing of the province of 2 million ethnic Albanians, had exhibited "great expertise", the Yugoslav leader was quoted as saying.

Yesterday , the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal in The Hague confirmed that it had indicted the Serb paramilitary leader Zeljko Raznatovic, also known as Arkan, for war crimes committed during the Bosnian conflict. As Mr Milosevic's offensive in Kosovo continues to gain strength and scope, Nato announced it would extend its range of targets, responding to widespread criticism that the air campaign had achieved too little, too late.

The chief of the defence staff, General Sir Charles Guthrie, admitted bad weather had hampered operations by manned aircraft.

"We have always said that we were faced, perhaps, with a long haul," he said. "The tempo is hotting up." Nato's supreme commander in Europe, General Wesley Clark, said the latest phase of air strikes would include attacking Serbian government buildings in the centre of Belgrade, such as the defence ministry.

General Clark said Nato bombers would try to limit civilian casualties "but there are no guarantees in an operation like this". The Nato secretary- general, Javier Solana, denied claims that Mr Milosevic's army had put the alliance on the defensive. He insisted the alliance had more than enough power to stop the Serbs in their tracks. "The plan and campaign that has been organised by President Milosevic is going to be stopped by the forces of the 19 countries that belong to Nato," he said in Brussels.

The US - and other states - also warned that they may counter Serbia's progress in "ethnically cleansing" Kosovo by recognising it as an independent state.

Italy said the proposals in the Rambouillet peace deal, which envisaged an autonomous Kosovo inside Serbia, was now a dead letter. The White House said: "If this campaign of ethnic cleansing continues, the international community's support for keeping Kosovo as part of Serbia will be eroded."

The United States also said it was concerned at Russian plans to send up to seven Navy ships from the Black Sea fleet to the Mediterranean, to be close to the Kosovo conflict.

The Kremlin said one warship was due to leave tomorrow, pending permission to use the Bosphorus and six others could follow shortly.

"We are obviously concerned by the signal such a large deployment might send to Belgrade," the State Department spokesman said. With no sign of a diplomatic breakthrough in sight after Russia's failure to wring any concessions from its Serbian ally on Tuesday, the Pope announced yesterday that he would send his foreign minister to Belgrade with a personal letter for Mr Milosevic.

The Vatican said Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran would leave for Belgrade today.

The papal initiative is highly unlikely to bear any fruit, given Orthodox Serbia's traditionally strong feelings of hostility towards the Catholic Church.

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