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Senate Panel Hears Kosovo Refugees

April 14, 1999

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The director of a Kosovo radio-TV station told a Senate hearing today of watching Serbian police destroy the station and of spending three days huddled in a car at the Macedonian border with six other people without food or much water. And she told of those who weren’t so fortunate.

``My friend, Gazmend Berisha, he was a correspondent for my radio station in Suva Reka, he did not get out,″ said Aferdita Kelmendi. ``They executed him in the street. I still cannot believe that I will never hear his voice again. I cannot even bear to think about it.″

She was one of three human-rights activists who recently fled Kosovo who gave harrowing testimony before a Senate Judiciary subcommittee looking into the enormous refugee problem created by the conflict.

``I am not a refugee,″ Kelmendi testified, fighting back tears. ``I did not leave Kosovo by choice. I was forced to leave and my family was forced to leave. I am a deportee. ... I was forced to leave by men with black caps and guns, who came specifically to make me leave.″

Julia Taft, an assistant secretary of state, told the panel over 680,000 Kosovar Albanians have been forced to flee the Serbian province in the past year, ``the majority during the last three weeks.″ She said another 700,000 to 800,000 ethnic Albanians remain in Kosovo, many of them homeless.

The United States is still willing to make good on its promise to take up to 20,000 refugees, but no decisions have yet been made on where to put them, Taft said. ``We are focusing most of our efforts at present on making asylum in the region possible. ... We do not anticipate a general U.S. refugee resettlement program at this time.″

Dr. Vjosa Dobruna, a pediatrician from the provincial capital of Pristina, Kosovo, said the city two weeks ago had a population of over 250,000. ``Now it has a population of only 15,000 to 20,000, most of them Serbs.″

``Before forcing us out of town, Serbian security troops demanded money and beat us, both my sister and I. They beat my brother-in-law very badly, threatening his wife that they would kill him,″ she testified.

``Summary executions, mass killings, the forced expulsion of civilians from their homes _ these continue every day throughout Kosovo,″ Dobruna said.

Mentor Nimani, a human rights activist who worked in Pristina, posed as a Serb and hid out in Belgrade for three days. ``But as a young male, I did not feel safe there,″ he said. He eventually fled to Montenegro, and then to Albania, he said.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, Orrin Hatch, R-Utah., said the word ``barbarism″ is inadequate to describe the attacks on Albanian-speaking Kosovars by forces loyal to Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.

``In the pictures of deportees, there is a distinct absence of men. Where are the men?″ he asked the three witnesses.

They offered no answers. ``We don’t have information or confirmation on their whereabouts,″ said Nimani.

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