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World - Europe

Refugee crisis builds as Serbs reportedly target Kosovars

Refugees at border
Refugees filtering into neighboring countries bring what they can.
 ALSO
Belgrade area targeted in fourth day of NATO strikes
 

A quarter-million people displaced

March 27, 1999
Web posted at: 3:37 a.m. EST (0837 GMT)

SKOPJE, Macedonia (CNN) -- Stories of violence and terror are emerging from Kosovo as ethnic Albanians flee their homes in Kosovo for the safety of neighboring countries.

Kosovar Albanians crossing the border into Macedonia tell CNN that the Serb-led Yugoslav army has cracked down on ethnic Albanians even as it battles the Kosovo Liberation Army on one front and NATO on another.

Since international observers, most aid groups and international journalists have left the country, the Yugoslav army faces little independent scrutiny of its actions.

The U.S. State Department and NATO have tried to keep the international focus on alleged Serb atrocities against Kosovar civilians. Such actions were cited as a key justification for airstrikes.

Refugee in car
"There was a lot of shooting, setting houses and stores ablaze," says this refugee crossing into Macedonia  

State Department spokesman James Rubin said reports were received Friday that Serbian forces had executed 20 ethnic Albanians in the village of Godan near the Albanian border.

The State Department has also said there were indications fighting-age men were being separated from their families.

And near the Kosovo capital, Pristina, Friday, a prominent Albanian human rights attorney and his two sons were reportedly killed.

The Humanitarian Law Center in Washington reported that the bodies of Bajram Kelmendi and his sons were found at a gasoline station near Pristina.

The attorney's death is among many reports from human rights groups of continuing attacks against prominent ethnic Albanians.

"There are increasing reports of atrocities against Albanians. We are alarmed at the reports. We are putting a great deal of resources to check them out," Rubin said.

Rubin added that Washington would pass on what it learned to the international war crimes tribunal in Geneva.

Thousands on the move

The intensified Yugoslav Government crackdown also appears aimed at Kosovo's leading ethnic Albanian newspapers. They were shut down shortly before the air strikes began Wednesday.

The publisher of the newspaper, Koha Ditore, is said to be in hiding. Veton Surroi was also a co-signer of the Paris peace plan Belgrade has refused to accept.

Meanwhile, reports from the Macedonia-Yugoslav border region indicate the majority of people fleeing Serb attacks are women and children.

In Kosovo, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees reports 260,000 displaced people are on the move.

To date, an estimated 19,000 have fled across the border to Albania. A further 13,000 have fled to Bulgaria and Turkey and between 16,000 and 20,000 have crossed into Macedonia.

International aid workers say they are ready to handle up to 100,000 new refugees and report their biggest concern now is those left behind in Kosovo.

Correspondents Chris Burns and Andrea Koppel contributed to this report.



RELATED STORIES:
Pentagon: 'We have made progress'
March 26, 1999
Greeks angered by NATO strikes clash with riot police
March 26, 1999
Security Council rejects Russian call to halt bombing
March 26, 1999
Russia expels NATO staff; Greece calls for bombing halt
March 26, 1999
Serb attacks reported on Kosovo villages
March 26, 1999
NATO: Yugo ground troops may be targeted
March 26, 1999
Poll: Americans split on NATO airstrikes
March 25, 1999

RELATED SITES:
Kosovo from space (September 1997)
Independent Yugoslav radio station B92
Federal Republic of Yugoslavia - Facts
Kosova Crisis Center
NATO Official Homepage
Kosovo and Metohia
U.S. Navy
  • Photo of missile firing Wednesday
Kosova Liberation Peace Movement
The Institute for War & Peace Reporting (IWPR)
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