Albania condemns Serb plan for refugee 'colony'

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The Independent Online

Europe Editor

As Albania condemned Serbia's plans to settle thousands of Croatian Serb refugees in Kosovo, Serbian police yesterday blocked 800 refugees who refused resettlement in the southern province, and prevented them from getting food or water, according to a Belgrade radio station report.

"Those poor people are surrounded and the police are trying to force them on to the train to Kosovo," Slobodan Blagojevic, a teacher from the town of Kusadak in central Serbia, told Belgrade's B92 radio station. The standoff between refugees and security forces in Kusadak began on Sunday, Radio B92 said. Police were preventing local townspeople from bringing food or water to the increasingly desperate crowd of people confined on an open field next to the railway line.

"The police are trying to wear them down," Mr Blagojevic said. "When some women tried to flee with their children across the field they were hunted down, and anyone bringing them food or water was beaten."

Meanwhile an Albanian Foreign Ministry statement issued in Tirana said the Serbian resettlement policy could turn the province into "a second Bosnia". Albania would not stand aside, the statement said, if the conflicts in Croatia and Bosnia spread into Kosovo, where Serbian authorities rule the ethnic Albanian majority with a rod of iron. "The installation of Serb colonists in Kosovo is part of an old plan for Greater Serbia, maintaining the intensity of the ethnic cleansing of Albanians, and aimed at altering the ethnic structure," the statement said. "This action will further aggravate the tense situation in Kosovo, and the unprecedented developments could . . . turn Kosovo into a second Bosnia."

Almost 800 Serb refugees have been moved into Kosovo since Croatia's armed forces overran the rebel Krajina Serb region, causing tens of thousands of Serbs to flee their homeland. The Belgrade newspaper Novosti, which reflects official Serbian thinking, said last Sunday that close to 20,000 Krajina Serbs would ultimately settle in Kosovo.