Refugee camp tensions erupt into protest
May 10, 1999
STENKOVEC, Macedonia (CNN) -- There were spontaneous protests Monday at Macedonia's Stenkovec refugee camp, where ethnic Albanians and Macedonian police gave conflicting reports of the incident that incited the demonstration.
Macedonian state radio said a refugee had tried to leave the camp and was detained by police. But the spokeswoman for the United Nation's refugee agency said that police had detained an ethnic Albanian known for his vocal complaints about conditions in the camp.
"The crowd was very angry and upset," said Paula Ghedini, the UNHCR spokeswoman.
U.N. and aid officials intervened, promising to investigate the reports.
A second, smaller protest erupted a few hours later, but that rally dispersed when refugees, police and NATO and aid officials met and reached a solution. The resolution called for a shift in the ethnic makeup of the police force assigned to the camp, adding more ethnic Albanians and reducing the number of ethnic Slavs.
There are other complaints in the overcrowded camps, however, ranging from stolen humanitarian aid goods to criminals extorting money with the promise of a flight out of the country.
Macedonia has almost a quarter of a million Kosovo refugees. and has periodically closed its borders to stem the flow of refugees out of its Yugoslavian neighbor. The flow has been reduced to a trickle since last Wednesday, when Macedonia kept nearly 4,000 ethnic Albanians from entering.
Overall, nearly three-quarters of a million refugees have taken shelter in Macedonia, Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Montenegro, the smaller of Yugoslavia's two republics. Another 130,000 have taken refuge in other countries.
And aid workers fear thousands more could be heading out of Kosovo.
A report released by the U.S. State Department Monday said that more than 90 percent of Kosovo's ethnic Albanians had been expelled from their homes by Serb forces and Serb civilians, with an estimated 600,000 still inside the borders.
Refugees who escape Kosovo arrive in refugee camps with tales of murder, rape and destroyed villages. The refugees consistently report that military-age men are routinely separated from their families, and are not crossing into the relative safety of Macedonia and Albania.
U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright called the report's findings a "horrific pattern of war crimes and crimes against humanity."
Workers are trying to improve the conditions by building more camps in Albania, trying to convince refugees in Macedonia to join their ethnic kin in Albania, and flying them to third countries for the duration of the conflict. More than 1,000 refugees, including 417 bound for the United States, left Macedonia Monday.
Correspondent Tom Mintier contributed to this report.
Yugoslav army announces partial troop withdrawal from Kosovo
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