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Kosovo Refugee Crisis Worsens

April 2, 1999

BLACE, Macedonia (AP) _ With Serb expulsions ``reaching nightmare proportions,″ the exodus of ethnic Albanians overwhelmed neighboring Albania and Macedonia on Friday.

Hungry and cold, thousands poured into makeshift camps that had little food or adequate shelter. In one rain-soaked field between two border checkpoints, refugees fought over a few loaves of bread tossed to them by a local aid organization.

``The situation is out of control,″ said Mussa Ulqin, the information minister in Albania, where nearly 140,000 Kosovo Albanians have sought refuge so far, according to the U.S. State Department.

With the flight of another 20,000 refugees into neighboring Albania and Macedonia on Friday, evidence of the Serb determination to purge the Yugoslav province of all ethnic Albanians became indisputable.

Refugees from the Kosovo capital, Pristina, described masked policemen carrying out door-to-door searches. An Albanian accent or a glint of fear drew an immediate order to vacate their homes, the refugees said.

NATO spokesman Jamie Shea said 36,500 ethnic Albanians were forced from Kosovo on Thursday, compared to 21,000 the day before, causing a refugee crisis he described as ``extremely grave, getting graver by the hour.″

``We are no longer facing an internal Yugoslav crisis. We are facing a crisis of the entire region with far-reaching consequences,″ Shea said in Brussels, Belgium, adding that NATO troops will focus on how to ease the refugee situation and help relief workers.

An estimated 200,000 people have fled Kosovo to Macedonia, Albania and Montenegro since March 24, the International Committee of the Red Cross said in statement from Geneva late Friday.

Faced with Europe’s worst humanitarian disaster since World War II, the ICRC announced a joint appeal Friday for more than $67 million to help refugees and civilians left behind.

``With the events deteriorating by the hour, a full appeal will be launched next week,″ said a statement by the ICRC and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

More than 20,000 refugees arrived by train Friday at this Macedonian border station. Most of them were from Pristina.

Friday’s influx brought to 86,000 the number of Kosovars who have sought refuge in Macedonia, including 70,000 since March 24, State Department spokesman James Rubin said.

Some refugees spoke of police herding ethnic Albanians from their homes and forcing them to join a stream of people bound for the Pristina railroad station, where they were packed on trains for the 30-mile journey to Macedonia.

``You could not move, you had to pack yourself into the train and just be there standing for over four hours,″ said Flaka Surroi, a UNICEF assistant project manager from Pristina.

The refugees here ended up stranded in the no-man’s land between the Macedonian and Yugoslav borders because Macedonian officials were only allowing only about 400 people a day to register and be transported to one of three camps.

``We are like animals, cattle sent here to starve. There is no food, no plastic for the rain nothing,″ said one woman, as she sat shivering with her children.

Macedonia, whose population of 2.2 million is about 40 percent Albanian, fears the influx could heighten ethnic tensions among Serbs, Macedonians and ethnic Albanians.

Across the border from the Albanian village of Qafe E Prushit, Serb security forces were searching Kosovo Albanians for money and identification papers before allowing them to cross.

Aid officials on the Albanian side watched as about 3,000 people crossed over to the village, so isolated that truck convoys cannot bring food over the rutted mountain paths.

``If we don’t do something quickly, people are going to start to die,″ said Carit Vanasy, a field officer for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.

International organizations have rushed to get more supplies to the refugees throughout the southern Balkans. The U.S.-based AmeriCares disaster relief organization announced it flew a plane Thursday to Skopje with medical supplies. It was planning four more flights in the coming week.

Three French planes carrying 25 tons of humanitarian aid, including medicine, milk for babies, and blankets and sleeping bags, left Marseille for Macedonia.

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