April 21, 1999
KUKES, Albania (CNN) -- A U.N. official said Wednesday that a break in the flow of refugees has given relief agencies a chance to catch up with the needs of those fleeing the violence in Kosovo.
"We have a small hiatus at present. It gives us a small breathing space, but we still have a long way to go," said Lyndall Sachs, a spokeswoman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.
Only a handful of people -- perhaps as few as 15 -- entered Albania due to border closings by Yugoslav authorities, officials said. And only 600 people crossed into Macedonia, NATO spokesman Jamie Shea said Wednesday.
But more worrisome to relief agencies is a significant increase in the number of refugees arriving with gunshot or shrapnel wounds, Sachs said.
"The faces are telling an enormous story of the horror that these people are experiencing," she said.
NATO officials say the wounds are the result of continued fighting within Kosovo between ethnic Albanian rebels and Yugoslav army troops, as well as a campaign of what NATO calls "ethnic cleansing" in the province.
Hundreds of thousands seek shelter
NATO now estimates that as many as 850,000 people -- mostly ethnic Albanians -- have been uprooted by the fighting in Kosovo, a province of the Yugoslav republic of Serbia. Another 600,000 have fled to Albania, Macedonia or other countries, as well as Serbia's sister republic of Montenegro.
To ease the pressure on neighboring countries, the United States, marking a significant policy shift, offered to allow as many as 20,000 refugees onto its soil.
The administration has abandoned plans to house refugees at its naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, sources said. By permitting Kosovo Albanians into the United States, the move could allow refugees to apply for asylum.
NATO relief efforts have so far brought more than 3,800 tons of emergency aid into Macedonia, said Brig. Gen Giuseppe Marani, a NATO military spokesman. In Albania, NATO has delivered about 2,400 tons of supplies, he said.
Along Albania's border with Yugoslavia on Wednesday, Dutch transport helicopters were carrying refugees away from the refugee camp at Kukes, while buses and trucks were taking others from the border to camps in the country's interior.
A NATO force -- dubbed AFOR -- is moving into Albania to aid refugees. AFOR will be a fast-moving contingent, said Air Marshal John Day, Britain's deputy chief of staff.
"When fully deployed, it will include 8,000 lightly equipped troops, but will also include engineering and medical expertise," Day said.
'Indescribable squalor' in Macedonia
Macedonia, meanwhile, has allowed NATO forces to expand refugee camps even as it fears the refugees will jeopardize the nation's political stability.
Thousands of refugees were reportedly stranded just outside Macedonia's border, while a British official described scenes of "indescribable squalor" in the country's refugee camps.
Paddy Ashdown, a leader of Britain's Liberal Democratic Party, visited Macedonia's refugee camps Tuesday and Wednesday and declared them "unbearable."
"It is my worst experience, my worst trip to the Balkans," said Ashdown, who has made several trips to the region.
British-led NATO troops in Macedonia were building new refugee camps for those who continued to cross Yugoslavia's southern frontier.
"In the Kosovars' hour of darkness and fear, British forces have helped a whole people back from the precipice," British Defense Secretary George Robertson said.
CNN INDEPTH SPECIAL SECTION:
Blair: 'No deal' for Milosevic
Extensive list of Kosovo-related sites
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