Refugees report Serb assaults on Kosovo civilians
March 27, 1999
SKOPJE, Macedonia (CNN) -- As village houses burned Saturday in the distant hills of Kosovo, refugees fleeing across the border to Macedonia reported stepped-up Serbian assaults against ethnic Albanian civilians.
Officials with NATO and U.S. military forces, which have conducted four days of airstrikes against military targets in Yugoslavia, reported similar but unconfirmed Serbian transgressions.
A village in Kosovo just north of Macedonia was on fire Saturday, and residents who fled across the border told CNN's Chris Burns that police had ordered them to leave their homes within two hours or be killed.
NATO spokesman Jamie Shea said there were unconfirmed reports that Yugoslav army and special police units were going door to door in north and central Kosovo, taking men from their homes.
A large part of Podujevo -- just north of Pristina, Kosovo's provincial capital -- was reported burning, he said.
British Secretary of Defense George Robertson accused Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic of cracking down harder on ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.
"We have heard that some villages do not exist," Robertson said.
There has been no independent verification of those claims. And White House officials said surveillance flights failed to find evidence to support reports of a forced march of 15,000 to 20,000 civilians in central Kosovo.
Shea expressed concern over mounting reports of alleged Yugoslav military activities in Kosovo, particularly what he called sweep operations against Kosovo Liberation Army strongholds, and killing and looting of ethnic Albanians.
"We have heard reports that armed Serb civilians are blocking all access to Pristina. Within that city, there have been door-to-door operations in which men have been separated from their families and taken away to undisclosed destinations," he said.
Shea also mentioned a report of 20 ethnic Albanians killed in Goden.
According to the Human Rights Watch organization, a prominent Albanian human rights attorney and his two sons were killed just outside Pristina.
Fewer refugees are making it across borders as the fighting steps up in Kosovo, said Julia Taft, U.S. assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and migration.
"What we're hearing is that very few are able to leave Kosovo right now," Taft said. "There is intensive fighting within Kosovo, near the Macedonian border and near Albania, which is preventing people from being able to escape."
KLA leaders called for swift intervention by NATO ground troops to stop Serb attacks in Kosovo.
"The only language this (Yugoslav) regime understands is the language of force," said Jashar Salihu, a KLA political representative in Brussels.
In Berlin, KLA commander Ramush Hajredinaj said NATO ground troops are necessary to prevent "a true humanitarian catastrophe" in Kosovo.
NATO and U.S. officials say they have no plans to deploy ground forces in the conflict.
More than a quarter of a million people have been displaced by a year of fighting in Kosovo, and the number could more than double before the conflict ends, Taft said.
Correspondents Christiane Amanpour, Patricia Kelly, Chris Burns and Andrea Koppel contributed to this report.
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