War In The Balkans: Serbs try for `final solution' in the capital

Pristina Exodus
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The Independent Online
SERB FORCES are turning Pristina into a ghost city, after herding tens of thousands of Albanians onto 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, on reaching 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."

"All the outskirts of Pristina have been burnt," said Fatime Bekaya, a refugee in Morini. She said paramilitaries were roaming the streets and killing people.

"The population was afraid there would be a massacre and started leaving," Islam Sogojeva said. "Those who did not have cars left on foot. I would say 40 per cent of the people have left Pristina."

Nato's seeming failure to dent President Slobodan Milosevic's firepower armoury has enabled the Serbs to overrun one of the last Albanian-held pockets in Kosovo, diplomats said.

They said Kosovo fighters in the Paragusa valley, 30 miles south-west of Pristina, which harbours 50,000 refugees from other areas, had been crushed yesterday by the Serbs superior firepower. 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, had exhibited "great expertise", the Yugoslav leader was quoted as saying.

As Mr Milosevic's offensive in Kosovo continues to gain strength and scope, Nato announced it would extend its range of targets, following 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. "But we have always said that we were faced, perhaps, with a long haul," he said. He said that in the first five days of the campaign, around 90 attacks were carried out against at least 70 individual sites and "the tempo is hotting up".

Nato's Supreme Commander, General Wesley Clark, said the latest phase of air strikes would include targeting Serbian government buildings in the centre of Belgrade, such as the defence ministry.

The more than 400 Nato planes in the operation will fly more missions and hit a greater array of targets all over Yugoslavia, he said. General Clark said Nato bombers would try to limit civilian casualties "but there are no guarantees in an operation like this".

Rebutting claims that Mr Milosevic's army had put the alliance on the defensive, Nato's Secretary-General Javier Solana insisted they had enough more than 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 West's Rambouillet peace deal, which envisaged an autonomous Kosovo inside Serbia, was now a dead letter, while 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, while six others would 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 an diplomatic breakthrough in sight - following Russia's failure to wring any concessions from its Serbian ally on Tuesday - the Pope yesterday announced 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.