Serbs reportedly planting land mines to create Kosovo 'no man's land'
April 9, 1999
BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (CNN) -- Kosovars faced a new threat Friday after two separate reports that Serb authorities were planting land mines along the Yugoslav-Albanian border in an apparent bid to isolate the war-ravaged province.
News of the development prompted deep concerns from the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Sadako Ogata, who said the flow of people out of Kosovo had suddenly stopped.
"We don't know what has happened to them. I'm very, very worried," she told a news conference in Albania Thursday.
CNN correspondents who visited the frontier region Thursday said Serb forces could be seen laying what appeared to be land mines just inside their territory at Morina, the main border crossing into Albania.
NATO spokesman Jamie Shea reported similar information saying the land mines were part of an attempt by Serb authorities to make Kosovo "a total no-man's land".
"We face a situation that for many months the Serb army was mining the border with Albania to stop people from going in. Now they seem to be mining to stop people from going out," Shea said.
For more than two weeks, tens of thousands of ethnic Albanian Kosovars have fled into Albania claiming they were forced out by Serb security forces.
But British Secretary of State for International Development Clare Short said Serb-led Yugoslav forces now appeared to be turning the remaining Kosovars around. About 10,000 refugees queuing for days to enter Albania have reportedly disappeared.
"They seem now to have started rounding up refugees queuing to leave Kosovo and returning them by force," Short said.
"We do not know if they have been driven back into their homes or elsewhere within Kosovo," she said.
CNN Correspondent Mike Boettcher said he was told that many vehicles belonging to ethnic Albanians were found abandoned, some of them burned, along the road leading to the border post.
According to Serbian media, the Kosovars returned to their homes amid assurances that it was safe to return.
U.S. State Department spokesman James Rubin said Washington had "credible but not confirmed reports" that war crimes had been committed by Serb forces against ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.
Rubin said the U.S. government would turn over its evidence to the International War Crimes Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.
Ogata said she was pleased that Albania had allowed in about 300,000 refugees.
The NATO-run refugee transit centers in northern Albania -- particularly in the main camp at Kukes -- were moving people south.
Authorities told CNN Correspondent Satinger Bindra in Kukes that they were trying to move thousands of refugees to Tirana, the capital.
There were about 100,000 refugees at Kukes, and aid officials were trying to improve their living conditions, particularly sanitation. Several children were sick with measles, and there were fears that other diseases could erupt.
However, Ogata admitted that there were bottlenecks in the processing of aid supplies being flown in. Tirana airport was overcrowded because of inadequate off-loading facilities and congested air space.
Britain said conditions had improved markedly for refugees in Macedonia who were moved from squalid camps to new NATO tent cities housing about 43,000 refugees.
But London said NATO officials were worried because some of the refugees were being sent out of the country.
"We remain concerned that refugees in Macedonia are being forced onto planes and buses. This is unacceptable. We understand Macedonian concerns and will provide support to Macedonia, provided it complies with international rights and norms in its treatment of refugees," Short said.
The Macedonian authorities rejected international criticism of the way it was handling the refugees. And a government statement said there were no refugees unaccounted for.
Britain accuses Serbs of preventing Kosovars' escapes
Extensive list of Kosovo-related sites
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