Thousands of Kosovars Go to Albania
May. 08, 1999
MORINI, Albania (AP) _ Thousands of ethnic Albanians from villages in southwest Kosovo streamed into northern Albania on Saturday, describing an apparent new Serb campaign to force them out of the province.
More than 5,000 refugees crossed the Albanian border by late afternoon, said officials of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
Many of them came from a series of villages around the western Kosovo city of Pec, telling similar stories of Serb forces attacking their homes earlier this week to drive them away or ordering them to leave.
Others spoke of heavy fighting in the past week in the area from Pec to Djakovica, about 25 miles to the southeast, involving the rebel Kosovo Liberation Army or self-armed civilians against Serb forces and Yugoslav troops.
The KLA's Kosova Press agency also reported heavy fighting over the past two days in Djakovica but gave no further details nor casualties.
Some refugees said Serb forces shelled homes and wounded people in Lluka Drini, the Albanian name of a village that served as a gathering point for several thousand refugees on Friday.
Refugees also said Serb forces seized young men from their tractors as they headed toward the Albanian border, with scores of men reportedly taken in the village of Strajadan, near Pec, and another village, Llabian.
``The Serbians took young men from all the tractors,'' said Avdyl Prekalla, 58, as he sat by the side of the road near his tractor after crossing at this border post near Kukes. His daughter-in-law, Cyme, said four of her brothers and two cousins were taken from their tractor.
She said refugees were gathered in a field in Strajadan and the Serbs then took the young men away. Since fighting broke out in Kosovo in February 1998, Serb forces have repeatedly rounded up military age ethnic Albanian men, suspecting them of links to the KLA.
The rebels are openly recruiting fighters among refugees in northern Albania.
Ray Wilkinson, U.N. refugee agency spokesman in Kukes, said some refugees claimed to have seen as many as 20 people killed.
Four wounded refugees were seen crossing the border Saturday morning, including a man who was shot in the foot in fighting last week against Serb forces in their mountain village near Pec, according to his brother.
Laum Musaj was carried into a medical tent shortly after crossing the border. His brother, Ismail, said Laum was shot in their home village, Ramun, eight days earlier.
He said women and children had left the village but the men stayed behind to fight Serbs with weapons they obtained in Albania.
``We are not with the KLA (Kosovo Liberation Army), but we fought to save our properties,'' Ismail Musaj said.
Ismail said there was heavy fighting in the area between the KLA rebels and Serb and Yugoslav forces.
``They are fighting, but the KLA is not advancing, because the Serbs are too strong. We have no tanks to fight them,'' he said. He claimed the Serb forces had many tanks hidden in the surrounding mountains.
When questioned about the KLA's supplies, Ismail said they lacked food and ammunition and were cut off from a major supply line in the mountains at Koshare.
Ali Musaj, 50, another brother, said the family saw NATO bombing in the area, but added, ``NATO is not helping us because the Serbs are killing the people.''