Flood of Serb refugees overwhelms Yugoslavia
July 20, 1999
With Yugoslavia already staggering under the burden of more than half a million refugees from previous ethnic conflicts, the new influx is further taxing the region's resources.
"(The refugees') accommodation is completely unsuitable," said Vesna Petkovic of the UNHCR's Belgrade office. "They are put up mostly in schools without adequate plumbing or any other facilities."
Adding to the strain is the West's reluctance to help a country whose president -- Slobodan Milosevic -- has been indicted by an international tribunal for war crimes.
Yugoslavia's resources and infrastructure suffered a severe blow during NATO's 11-week bombing campaign, aimed at forcing an end to what it said was Yugoslavia's attempt to rid Kosovo of its ethnic Albanian population.
Many ethnic Albanians -- 90 percent of Kosovo's population -- fled the region, but returned as Yugoslav troops left and were replaced by NATO forces.
But fears of retaliation -- and actual acts of retribution -- have driven Serbs from their own homes and into parts of Yugoslavia ill-equipped to handle them.
About 150,000 Serbs have come to the region in all: more than 18,000 to Kraljevo -- equal to a third of the town's population -- and more than 13,000 to Kragujevac.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan warned on Tuesday that continued problems in Yugoslavia could force Serbs to flee the country altogether and create a refugee crisis elsewhere.
"It is in our own self-interest to try and do whatever we can do to create the minimum conditions that will make it possible for them to stay at home," he said in a speech to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in Vienna, Austria.
Annan called for humanitarian aid to all of Yugoslavia, and acknowledged that reconstruction of the region after the war will not be a quick prospect.
"I know that we will be on the ground at least for several years, but the reconstruction of Kosovo and the region, in my judgment, will take at least 10 years," he said.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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