Ethnic Albanian leader tours Macedonian refugee camp
May 26, 1999
STENKOVEC, Macedonia (CNN) -- Albanian Kosovars poured out of their tents in jubilant celebration Wednesday to greet moderate ethnic Albanian leader Ibrahim Rugova, making his first visit to a refugee camp.
The refugees chanted Rugova's name and waved the "V" for victory sign as the popular leader made his way through the main Stenkovec camp for a half-hour visit. Rugova also stopped by the Blace border crossing, and was expected to meet Macedonian leaders in the capital, Skopje..
Rugova, whose visit to Macedonia had been rumored for days, said NATO's plans for an international peacekeeping force were necessary to ensure the safe return of Kosovo's Albanians to their homes.
"Without an international presence, it's impossible today to have people in Kosovo, because, you know, I've been in Pristina. Pristina is empty. It's a phantom city," he said, referring to Kosovo's capital. "Kosovo is empty today. We work together to have the return of the people."
In Belgrade, Yugoslavia's newly appointed minister for refugees, Bratislava Morina, said her government wanted the refugees to return to their homes.
"Refugees from both Albania and Macedonia should be brought back, and that's not a small number, together with internally displaced people in Serbia and Montenegro," Morina said in an interview with Serbian state television.
"All those people are our citizens and will be treated as our citizens, but we need some procedures on the basis of decisions of both federal and republic governments," she said.
Morina did not specify what type of "procedures" would need to be in place to effect the return of the refugees. Many of the hundreds of thousands of Kosovo Albanians say that Yugoslav authorities confiscated and destroyed all their identity papers before they were allowed to leave.
Steady stream of refugees
Tensions in Macedonia have been rising with the number of Kosovo refugees flooding over the border in recent days. Another 8,000 arrived Wednesday -- and the seven camps along the border were rapidly filling.
"If this continues, the camps will be full tonight," said Denis McNamara, Balkans envoy for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.
Macedonia has urgently requested help in handling the refugees, asking for both financial assistance and for other countries to take in some of the refugees.
In Albania, NATO continued efforts to evacuate refugees from camps in the north of the country and move them farther south into Albania, away from Serb artillery range and water shortages.
Gen. John Reith of Britain warned that the northern Albanian town of Kukes -- with a population of 30,000 before tens of thousands of refugees arrived -- was facing a severe water shortage this summer.
Moreover, Reith said that Serb forces were strengthening their positions near the Marina border crossing.
"There's artillery behind them and of course the last thing I want is somebody just lobbing a few rounds into here," he said.
NATO is facing a reluctance among the refugees to move deeper into Albania. Instead, they prefer to stay close to the border to watch for family and friends.
"The hope is that once the momentum starts the numbers will increase," U.N. spokesman Rupert Colville said. "We're strongly encouraging them" (to move away from the border).
NATO is trying to move 30,000 refugees, which would still leave some 70,000 in and around Kukes.
Correspondent Tom Mintier contributed to this report.
Trial of aid workers begins in Yugoslavia
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