Hundreds of Albanian villagers flee amid growing tension

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The Independent Online

Nato-led peacekeepers have increased ground and air patrols of the Kosovo-Macedonia border amid reports of hundreds of ethnic Albanian refugees fleeing a tense Macedonian village, international officials said Monday.

Nato-led peacekeepers have increased ground and air patrols of the Kosovo-Macedonia border amid reports of hundreds of ethnic Albanian refugees fleeing a tense Macedonian village, international officials said Monday.

More than 300 individuals have escaped to Kosovo, said a spokeswoman for U.N. refugee agency, Astrid van Genderen Stort.

They fled the village of Tanusevac after tensions rose following the killing of a young Albanian man last week, she said. The latest arrivals went to the villages of Debelde and Vitina, 50 kilometer (30 miles) southeast of Pristina.

Most of the arrivals were woman and children, while men were staying behind. Van Genderen Stort quoted the refugees as saying that Macedonian forces had sent reinforcements to Tanusevac, which is located on the border.

A new group of ethnic Albanian guerrillas, calling themselves "National Liberation Army," have been operating in the village.

Ethnic Albanians make up about one fourth of Macedonia's 2 million people. They mostly live in the west of the country and have often been accused by majority Macedonian Slavs of links to organized crime based in Kosovo.

The Macedonian Albanians openly supported the ethnic Albanian Kosovo Liberation Army in the latter's 1998-99 war against Serb forces.

Peacekeepers have increased the patrolling of the border, said Richard J. Heffer, a spokesman. With the coming of spring, when conditions for traveling improve, NATO will increase its surveillance, he said.

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