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Refugees Demand NATO Take Over Camp

May 10, 1999

STENKOVEC, Macedonia (AP) _ Angry Kosovo Albanians protested poor refugee camp conditions and alleged police harassment _ including the beating of two residents _ in a sign Monday of growing tensions in the overcrowded tent cities.

About 2,000 protesters in the Stenkovec I camp chanted ``NATO, NATO″ in front of a Macedonian police station, demanding that alliance troops take over the facility just north of the capital, Skopje.

The unrest was prompted by the alleged arrest and beating of two refugees by Macedonian police patrolling the camp, which houses 23,000 people.

The crowd dispersed after U.N. officials and Macedonian police agreed to consider the grievances. A police official who refused to give his name said authorities were considering sending Macedonian-Albanian police to handle security.

But the angry response underlined the tensions in the crowded camps, a warning of more trouble to come if the situation does not improve.

Last month, the U.N. refugee agency warned that the Macedonian tent cities were ``on the verge of rioting″ because of overcrowding.

Ray Wilkinson, spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in Kukes, Albania, said more people were expected to flee Kosovo.

In Stenkovec I, refugee Milaim Gashi said he was relaxing near a fence talking to relatives when police grabbed him and a friend, hustled them off to the camp station and roughed them up.

The senior U.N. relief official at the camp, Aurvasi Patel, quoted police as saying the men were trampling on the fence and resisted when officers tried to stop them. Police said they responded with ``normal police procedure,″ taking Gashi to the station and searching him.

NATO troops patrolled the camp regularly until 10 days ago, when they handed over security to the Macedonian police.

Patel blamed the protest on ``the tension of the past five weeks and what the people have gone through in the camps.″

During the rally, refugee Milaim Kastrati led the crowd in chanting ``NATO, NATO,″ and ``K-L-A, K-L-A,″ referring to the rebel Kosovo Liberation Army fighting for Kosovo province to be independent from Serbia, the larger of two Yugoslav republics.

``We’ve had enough of massacres and beatings,″ Kastrati said. ``We don’t want the Macedonian police to beat us up now.″

Ethnic Albanians made up about 90 percent of Kosovo’s prewar population of 2 million. More than 700,000 Kosovo Albanians have fled the province since NATO began its air assault March 24.

More than 240,000 are in Macedonia, a predominantly Slavic country with an ethnic Albanian population estimated at one-third of its 2 million inhabitants. Macedonia’s Slav-dominated government is concerned that the influx will upset the delicate balance between Macedonians and Albanians in the former Yugoslav republic.

Most of the refugees have fled to Albania. International monitors said almost 16,000 newcomers arrived in northern Albania over the weekend. Most came from Pec and Djakovica, the scene of recent fighting between Serb and KLA forces and NATO airstrikes in the past two days.

About 100,000 refugees are in camps around Kukes, Albania, 12 miles southwest of the Morini border station. Aid officials hope to start moving large numbers of them further into Albania because the camps are within range of Serb artillery.

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