Thousands of refugees continue weary exodus from Kosovo
April 18, 1999
MORINA, Albania (CNN) -- As many as 200,000 refugees are expected to make their way out of Kosovo into neighboring Albania and Macedonia this weekend, as NATO officials reported that a Yugoslav campaign to rid the province of ethnic Albanians may be in its final stages.
"Yesterday and today, about 20,000 crossed into Albania in very poor physical condition because they walked a long way -- about four or five days -- to get there," said Sadako Ogata, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, in a Saturday news briefing.
She said that another 15,000 had entered Macedonia.
"There is a clear sign that there is another massive wave of people being forced out," Ogata said, adding that she could not estimate how many more would come.
The refugees are bringing with them tales of atrocities by Serb forces -- including systematic rape, beatings and summary executions.
"All of Kosovo is burning," one refugee said.
Rain and cold, hunger and fear are taking a heavy toll on the exhausted hordes of fleeing Kosovars.
Teams of international doctors have flown in to try to help the refugees.
"All we are (treating) right now is basically critical (cases), gunshot wounds, shrapnel, newborns," said Dr. Jim Desmore, an American physician working in the Albanian border town of Morina.
"We've got babies born in wagons, people shot in both feet, people shot through the neck, a lot of just ... I don't know the proper word ... I don't know," said the obviously distraught Desmore.
Those arriving this weekend are in worse condition than previous waves of the displaced, according to UNHCR officials.
Those who make it to the camps are still in danger -- not only from the risk of disease and inadequate sanitation, but from shelling between Yugoslav troops and the Kosovo Liberation Army.
The KLA, an ethnic Albanian guerrilla movement that has been fighting for the independence of Kosovo, has moved into positions in Albania.
NATO officials said Saturday that refugee reports indicate that 3,200 ethnic Albanians have been killed recently by Serb forces in Kosovo.
Some refugees reported that Serb police and army units went on a rampage against ethnic Albanians in Mitrovica, near the provincial capital of Pristina, after NATO bombed an army barracks in the town.
British military officials said Yugoslav troops are trying to eliminate the province's entire ethnic Albanian population, which once approached two million.
Doug Henderson, Britain's armed forces minister, said about 1.1 million people have been uprooted.
"What is going on in Kosovo is nothing short of criminal," Henderson said.
Aid effort struggles to keep pace
NATO troops in Macedonia and Albania have built tent cities for the refugees, and NATO planes have hauled tons of humanitarian aid to the camps.
But at a refugee camp in Stenkovec, Macedonia, some refugees reported they had to sleep in the open because there weren't enough tents. Thousands of people are forced to stand in line for hours to receive food.
UNHCR officials said supplies are insufficient: as many people could flee Yugoslavia in the next three or four days as have come across since the NATO strikes began March 24.
"This is terrible for us, this is a real nightmare. We have to double the assistance we are providing for people," said Jacques Franquin, a UNHCR official at Morina.
Correspondents Richard Blystone, Matthew Chance and Ben Wedeman contributed to this report.
Yugoslav POW in U.S. custody; reserves to be called up
Extensive list of Kosovo-related sites
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