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Refugees in U.S. Get Free Flights

July 12, 1999

WASHINGTON (AP) _ All refugees from Kosovo who found sanctuary in the United States will be offered flights home on commercial and charter flights, Clinton administration officials said today.

The U.S. government will foot the bill if they choose to go home.

Some 9,700 refugees were flown to the United States last spring. About half went to live with relatives, and except for about 200 who remained in Ft. Dix, N.J., the other half found other places to live in this country.

Most of the refugees are expected to take the United States up on the offer to go back to Kosovo, said the U.S. officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Last week, the refugee village at Fort Dix, the Army post in Burlington County, N.J., where the first planeload landed in early May, was closed with a special ceremony.

``All you did for us was so great, precious and tremendous. May God bless all of you, your families and America. Thank you,″ said Aqim Shaqiri, speaking for the refugees through an interpreter.

Military and government officials praised the soldiers, government workers and volunteers for their efforts.

``It’s been an incredible experience,″ Gen. Thomas A. Schwartz said. ``You’ve done a magnificent job, everybody in this room, and I’m proud of you. You gave them hope.″

David J. Scheffer, the U.S. ambassador-at-large for war crimes issues, said about 200 of the 4,000 refugees who went through Fort Dix had provided detailed accounts of war crimes, leading investigators in Kosovo to a mass grave with 30 to 50 bodies. Scheffer said that information was being turned over to United Nations prosecutors in The Hague, the Netherlands, and may lead to additional indictments of war criminals.

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