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Refugees Say Serbs Forced Them Out

April 10, 1999

STANKOVIC, Macedonia (AP) _ Frightened refugees trickled out of Serbia today, including scores from a Kosovo village who said Serb police forced them from their homes and then harrassed them on a harrowing trek across the mountains.

The 80 said they made it out over mountain passes, bypassing official Serbian border crossings on their four-day journey. Refugee Idriz Sejeva said of his family of 24, only five made it out.

Serb police had come to the village, saying they would kill whoever didn’t leave their homes, Sejava said. Police repeatedly surrounded the refugees on the way, scattering the frightened Kosovo Albanians, he said.

None of them knew the fate of their missing neighbors and family.

The account matched those of other groups of refugees who have made it out after Serbia stopped what the Kosovo Albanians said were forced expulsions of tens of thousands of refugees a day. Serbia appears to have largely sealed the border since then.

Late Friday, a group of 1,500 bedraggled Kosovo refugees crossed into Albania from Yugoslavia, also saying Serbs had chased them from their homes.

The surprise arrival was the first time refugees entered Albania en masse since the Yugoslavs closed the border three days ago, after forcing 450,000 ethnic Albanians out of Kosovo during the past two weeks.

Monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe at Morina, Albania, which watches the frontier 24 hours a day, said lights on the Yugoslav side of the border suddenly illuminated the crossing point about 11 p.m.

A caravan of cars and tractors loaded with refugees crossed into Albanian territory. Then the lights went off on the Yugoslav side, and it was unclear whether the border would be re-opened again.

``This seems to be an isolated group,″ said one OSCE monitor, Phil Figgins. ``This is very strange.″

The refugees crossing into Albania late Friday said they were forced from their homes by Serb police, who went on a rampage after NATO jets launched airstrikes starting March 24. Yugoslav authorities claim ethnic Albanians were fleeing NATO bombs.

The newcomers were taken to an Italian-run refugee camp near Kukes about 15 miles to the southwest, where they spent the night in their vehicles.

They said Serb police entered their community, Vragoli, about 3 miles west of the Kosovo capital Pristina about noon Friday, and ordered them to pack up and leave.

``The Serbs told us to leave, so we did,″ said Izmet Vjeteraj. ``But we have no idea why.″

Police then escorted them in the 50-mile journey to the border, using mostly back roads, the monitors quoted members of the group as saying.

Yugoslav crossings into Macedonia have been open at least intermittently for days, and hundreds of new refugees have come out of Kosovo. Macedonian officials pledged to keep their borders open.

Update hourly