War in The Balkans: Serbs force women back into Kosovo

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The Independent Online
IN A strange and ominous twist to the Serbian "cleansing" of Prizren city, police are forcing women and children to return home while their men are expelled across the frontier to Albania.

Small groups of anguished men trudged across the border, unable to protect their families from the twisted tyranny of President Slobodan Milosevic. "They kept the women," Nair Mucaj said as he greeted an old friend. His wife, Merita, who is due to give birth to their first child in three weeks, managed to cross because her ID card gave her place of residence as Orahovac. "At the border the women and children were turned back - the police said, `You wanted Nato - now the women and children will stay until they get killed by Nato'," she said.

One of the men, Jeton Hasi, said: "We were driving and we saw a group walking ahead of us. The police at the border stopped them - most were women and children, but there were a few men.

"The police told them they had to go back, and we saw some returning to Prizren, walking home. They looked tired, they were carrying bags, but we didn't dare to stop and talk to them.

There were similar stories from men who arrived a little later. "They stopped my wife because she is from Prizren," Edis Burnik said. He and his family boarded a bus in the city, one of at least 20 used to deport Kosovars yesterday morning, by mingling with non-residents.

"The police stopped us and asked for our ID cards, and then they said all men were free to cross the border but the women were not. We did not dare to argue."

Staffan de Mistura, a senior United Nations official who has worked in 17 war zones, was at the border: "This is probably the most cynical, calculating, glacially coldly planned humanitarian tragedy that I have seen in 29 years working for the UN," he said. He added that he thought the women of Prizren might be used as human shields.

By lunchtime, a large crowd was partly visible on the Serbian side of the border. "We think our women are still at the border," Mr Burnik said. "There were many women and children in a group - maybe they are waiting in the hope they will be free to cross. But there are police standing around them."

Some of the refugees had managed to outwit the Serbs. "As we reached the border, we saw that women and men from Prizren were being separated and that only men were allowed to cross, so my wife, who has ID from Orahovac, immediately told me to give her my ID card, which she hid," said Murat Pajaziti. He told the Serbs his documents had been burnt (a plausible tale since so many refugees are robbed of their papers by Serbian forces) and the group was allowed to cross.

Bekim Krasniqi had offered the Serbs money to let his wife and parents cross the border, but they refused to let them in.

However, half an hour later he was able to report that his wife, Lylzim, had arrived by tailing a group from another village. She told the Serbs she had no papers, slipped them 200 Deutschmarks and was waved in. "The police have ordered everyone to go back to Prizren, but the are not obeying," she said.

By 4pm yesterday, the road near the Serbian border post was empty. The crowd had disappeared, leaving their anxious relatives to ponder their fate.