War in The Balkans: Typhoid hits refugees trapped in Kosovo

Humanitarian Crisis
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TYPHOID, CHOLERA and other infectious diseases are spreading among ethnic Albanians displaced in Kosovo by Serbian forces, according to reports reaching aid agencies and diplomats outside Yugoslavia.

While air strikes are progressively destroying or immobilising Serbian tank and artillery units, taking pressure off Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) guerrillas, the plight of refugees trapped inside combat zones appears to be worsening. Accounts conveyed by satellite phone from inside Kosovo suggested that several displaced people had died of hunger.

"There is a lack of food and drinking water. Incidents of typhoid, cholera, scabies and pulmonary infections have been increasing." one Western official said.

"Ethnic Albanian leaders are asking for urgent humanitarian assistance, believing that the international media has overlooked the plight of internally displaced people," the official added.

With the expulsion of almost all foreign media from Kosovo, reliable information on the plight of more than half a million people made homeless by Serbs since 24 March is scarce. But KLA units who have been in satellite telephone communication with contacts outside Kosovo say that Serb forces stepped up attacks on ethnic Albanian communities over the Orthodox Easter weekend. Malisevo, Shala and Kacanik in central Kosovo and some western regions were reported to have been shelled.

The KLA appears to have abandoned an unsuccessful strategy of trying to capture territory from a superior conventional army, returning instead to hit-and-run tactics. The hope is that Nato air strikes will eventually neutralise Serbian heavy weapons and lead to an international troop deployment, allowing refugees to go home.

"The KLA seems to be maintaining defence lines only where there are large numbers of internally displaced people," one Western monitor said.

Heavy fighting was reported on Monday around Istok in north-west Kosovo and the Decani-Junik corridor close to the mountainous border with northern Albania. The KLA was claiming to have units "back in action" in the western towns Djakovica and Pec, which Serbian security forces were reported to have emptied of people a few days into the Nato campaign.