Kosovo exodus reaches 130,000 in one week
U.N.: People trapped in Kosovo could face starvation
March 31, 1999
GENEVA (CNN) -- The mass exodus of ethnic Albanians fleeing Kosovo continued unabated Wednesday, and the U.N. refugee agency said that, over the past week, more than 130,000 people had sought shelter outside the Serb province.
The new figures by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees came amid a warning by the U.N. food agency that people still trapped in Kosovo could face starvation within 10 days to two weeks.
The UNHCR said Albania is still the major exit point for the refugees, with thousands of ethnic Albanians continuing to stream across the border from Kosovo.
The Yugoslav province of Montenegro saw an influx of 25,000 refugees in the last week, the UNHCR said in a report on its Web site Wednesday..
The aid agency said about 3,000 refugees crossed into Macedonia aboard a train on Wednesday.
"The new arrivals talked of being forced from their homes with death threats and watching the buildings being torched as they left," said the UNHCR report, adding that another train carrying several hundred people had been allowed into Macedonia earlier in the day.
"The food crisis inside Kosovo is expected to worsen," warned the head of the U.N. World Food Program, Catherine Bertini, in London on Wednesday. "Without international relief assistance, starvation is expected within 10 days to two weeks."
She said that the U.N. agency's extensive food stocks inside Kosovo had been looted in the recent upsurge of fighting.
"The internal food distribution system has broken down as a result of the conflict. The food crisis threatens to be a long-term problem because no harvest is expected this year," she said.
Bertini said she had no idea how many people were now trapped in Kosovo.
U.S. boosts aid to refugees
The United States announced Wednesday that it was boosting its humanitarian aid to the refugees by $50 million.
Officials said that half of the new package will come from Department of Defense supplies, including shelters and transportation. Most of the remaining $25 million in new U.S. aid will be funneled through the United Nations and other agencies providing relief in the region, the officials said
The United States had already released $8.5 million last week for the refugees. The European Union, Turkey, Switzerland, Australia and Canada also have contributed or pledged refugee aid.
International aid agencies, including the WFP, UNHCR and the International Committee for the Red Cross have all stepped up their refugee aid efforts.
Wednesday's aid deliveries included a WFP shipment of 40 tons of wheat flour and 10 tons of high protein biscuits from the Albanian capital Tirana to the northern town of Kukes, where tens of thousands of refugees were welcomed and got their first emergency aid.
Tales of death, persecution and hunger
Thousands more refugees crossed into Albania on Wednesday, and many of them again told CNN that Serb military and police forces expelled them under threat of death, torched and plundered their homes and villages, and took their remaining money before they were forced to cross the border. CNN correspondents in Kukes observed Serb units forcing refugees to hand over identification papers and car license plates -- a move that may bar the refugees from re-entering Kosovo at a later date.
On Wednesday, Albanian police had to intervene to stop impoverished local residents from trying to steal money or valuables from incoming refugees.
According to eyewitness accounts, the line of ethnic Albanians moving towards the Albanian border was still several kilometers long.
CNN correspondents in Montenegro and Macedonia also again heard many tales of death, destruction and suffering from the refugees.
The authorities in Montenegro told CNN that thousands of refugees had found shelter with local families.
Food is said to be scarce, though, and the government has issued an appeal for international aid, saying the refugee problem is more than the province can bear over time.
U.N. says starvation could hit Kosovo soon
Extensive list of Kosovo-related sites
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