Refugees dodge shellfire, snipers
May 28, 1999
MORINA, Albania (CNN) -- A few hundred Kosovars crossed into Albania on Friday, dodging occasional sniper fire and shelling as aid workers worried about the safety of refugees on both sides of the border.
Albania's military conducted maneuvers along the border with Yugoslavia on Friday in a show of strength that included tanks, artillery and rocket fire. Fighting between the Serb-led Yugoslav troops and the ethnic Albanian rebels of the Kosovo Liberation Army has occasionally spilled across the frontier.
About 100,000 of the estimated 441,000 Kosovo refugees in Albania are huddled in camps near the border, and the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees worried that the exercises would only increase the level of tension in the area.
"The UNHCR in general could do without the loud bangs, but the government has the right to do what it wants on its border," one U.N. official told CNN.
The U.N. relief agency has been moving refugees away from the border for security reasons. About 2,000 left for the interior on Thursday.
Among new arrivals Thursday were 165 prisoners from Smerkovnica, where hundreds have been freed in the past week to make room for new detainees, UNHCR said.
Sniper fire from inside Yugoslavia also wounded a Chilean television journalist on Thursday near the border post, leaving him in critical condition on Friday.
Exodus to Macedonia slows again
The UNHCR estimates that nearly 779,000 people -- mostly ethnic Albanians -- have fled Kosovo since the NATO bombing campaign began in March. NATO blames the exodus on a Yugoslav army campaign against civilians and the KLA in Kosovo, a province of the dominant Yugoslav republic of Serbia.
In addition to the 400,000-plus refugees in Albania, 251,000 have gone to Macedonia; 65,000 to Montenegro; and 21,500 to Bosnia-Herzegovina.
In Macedonia, border crossings slowed to a trickle on Friday. Aid workers had no explanation for the slowdown.
Macedonia has given a qualified welcome to the refugees, and gave the UNHCR permission Friday to open a new refugee camp to ease crowding in its existing facilities. The new camp will be built near the existing camp at Cegrane and can hold up to 20,000 people, UNHCR spokesman Kris Janowski said.
Janowski said only 2,000 Kosovo refugees entered Macedonia between Wednesday and Friday -- far fewer than last week, when nearly 30,000 people crossed the border in four days.
To ease Macedonian officials' concerns, the aid agency is also asking for volunteers among the refugees to go to Albania, which has more readily accepted fleeing Kosovars. About 500 people have signed up to move to Albania, the UNHCR said.
Correspondent Martin Savidge and Reuters contributed to this report.
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