War in the Balkans: Urgent food aid needed for 840,000 `being marched to borders' Purge of Kosovars enters final phase

Relief Effort
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The Independent Online
THE WORLD Food Programme (WFP) issued an emergency appeal yesterday for rations for starving Kosovar refugees after receiving "military and humanitarian intelligence" that the elimination of the remaining Albanian population of the province was underway.

"The intelligence suggests that 840,000 people remaining inside Kosovo are being forced to march to neighbouring borders," said Heather Hill of the UN agency. "We understand they are being driven on by tank fire where they show reluctance to move."

The intelligence assessment received by the WFP suggests that Serbian ethnic cleansing of Kosovo appeared to be approaching its final stages yesterday.

The WFP refused to identify its sources - and there appears to be some confusion over the number of Albanian civilians remaining in Kosovo who are being defended by the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) in the north. However, the appeal was expected to be taken seriously last night.

The aid organisation has asked America, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Japan, Sweden, Denmark and Norway for urgent help. Ms Hill said it had asked for six million humanitarian daily rations (HDRs), meals ready to eat (MREs) and high-energy biscuits to feed a large influx of people heading towards the Kosovan borders with Albania, Montenegro and Macedonia.

"We understand they are in five group," Ms Hill said. "There are 175,000 near the border with Montenegro and 100,000 with Macedonia," she said. "The remaining 565,000 are thought to be in three more groups. Some have fled into the forests. We do not know their precise location but these, too, are thought to be coming under artillery fire."

It has been known for some time that hundreds of thousands of Kosovars have been hiding from Serb forces - The Independent reported yesterday that 250,000 were being protected by a 10,000-strong KLA force in the north. The WFP's intelligence, if correct, would appear to suggest that many of these are now on the move.

There was uncertainty, too, over the whereabouts of thousands of ethnic Albanians who have been heading for the Albanian border at Morini. More than 30,000 crossed at the weekend and then, suddenly, the flow stopped on Sunday afternoon. Only 28 people crossed the border yesterday, some speaking of seeing rows of cars and tractors, but no refugees.

The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe said last night it could not confirm the WFP figures. "If this intelligence is available, then it hasn't been given to us," saidAndrea Angeli, OSCE spokeswoman. "We have people inside the host countries and at the borders but not in Kosovo. It would be unwise for us to speculate."

The WFP said it had not yet received replies from donor countries to its appeal, but it expected them to be positive. "This will give us enough food to care for people during their first three or four days, then we hope to give them access to better cooking facilities," said Ms Hill.

Sources from Nato's humanitarian Operation Allied Harbour said it had received a welcome addition to the aid airlift yesterday when Ukraine offered the use of a helicopter.