Kosovo fighting triggers refugee crisis in Albania
Refugee aid efforts stepped up
March 29, 1999
KUKES, Albania (CNN) -- Thousands more refugees fled the conflict in Kosovo and crossed into neighboring Albania on Monday, prompting international agencies to step up aid efforts.
The humanitarian crisis comes as NATO continues its bombing campaign in Yugoslavia, saying the airstrikes are now aimed directly at Serb units reportedly involved in "ethnic cleansing" in the province.
Serb leaders deny any such campaign is going on in Kosovo, but NATO officials are paying increasing attention to reports of attacks on ethnic Albanian civilians.
Emma Bonino, the European Union's humanitarian affairs commissioner, said Monday that between 80,000 and 100,000 refugees were believed to have crossed into Albania, further aggravating an already difficult refugee situation there.
About 4,000 refugees have already fled to Bosnia-Herzegovina and 5,000 to Montenegro, Bonino said.
Another 1,000 ethnic Albanian refugees crossed the border into Macedonia on Monday, saying they were forced to leave their homes because of harassment and Serb brutality.
Albanian Prime Minister Pandeli Majko said his government was speeding up work to accommodate the refugees in his country, which most refugees entered via a border crossing at Kukes, about 250 kilometers (155 miles) north of the Albanian capital Tirana.
Albania appealed to the international community for help in coping with the influx of refugees into one of Europe's poorest nations. The government has sent hundreds of buses and private cars to Kukes to more refugees away from the border.
Those who did make it across the border told CNN's Chris Burns that Serb authorities in Yugoslavia made them hand over documents and car license plates, suggesting that they will not be allowed back into the Yugoslavia.
Some of the refugees described beatings, executions and looting by Serb forces in Kosovo.
"They came to our homes and told us, 'Get out! Get out!," a young refugee woman told CNN, saying the clothes her family were wearing was all they were allowed to take with them.
A U.N. refugee agency official told CNN that many refugees were put up by local families in Albania but that clearly outside help was urgently needed.
Albania has repeatedly accused Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic of genocide and has repeatedly demanded forceful NATO intervention in Kosovo.
Macedonia, which has also seen a stream of refugees from Kosovo, has appealed for international economic aid. Long lines of refugees built up at the border between Kosovo and Macedonia, and several said they were forced out as part of a wider plan of ethnic cleansing.
NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana said Monday that the military alliance, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and the EU were coordinating aid efforts for refugees.
EU officials said Monday they were earmarking $16 million more in aid. And an upcoming international donor conference was expected to further address the aid situation.
"The picture that is emerging is very grim. There appears to be a policy of expulsions of ethnic Albanians," said UNHCR spokesman Chris Janowski in Geneva.
Janowski said there was still "plenty of fighting" which was pushing more people out of Kosovo province, where NATO forces have been bombing Serb military targets in what the alliance says is an effort to bring a halt to the attacks on ethnic Albanians.
NATO on Monday again strongly condemned the Serb crackdown on ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, saying that the alliance had reports of 10 villages set on fire in the most recent operations by Serb forces.
The alliance said that, despite the refugee crisis, the NATO bombings were on target and were successful in reducing Milosevic's military capabilities in Kosovo.
NATO said Monday it had reports of executions of leading ethnic Albanian leaders, including Fehmi Agani, a delegate who had participated at recent international Kosovo peace talks in France.
A self-declared member of the Kosovo Liberation Army told CNN in a telephone interview that the Serb crackdown in Kosovo was continuing Monday, including the provincial capital Pristina.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair said Monday that Serb participation in the recent Kosovo peace talks in Paris was "a cover" for a campaign of ethnic cleansing in Kosovo and that Milosevic "should be made to pay a higher and higher price" for each act his troops carry out.
NATO, British leaders allege 'genocide' in Kosovo
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