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Kosovo Albanians Flood Over Border

June 3, 1998

PRISTINA, Yugoslavia (AP) _ Kosovo’s ethnic Albanians pleaded Wednesday for NATO intervention to stop what they called a Serb campaign of forced expulsions from their independence-seeking province. Another 2,000 villagers poured across the border to escape the Serb onslaught.

Serb police and paramilitary units shelled at least five villages in western Kosovo, setting houses ablaze and sending more residents fleeing into neighboring Albania, according to Albanian sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Serb authorities have sealed off the area of the conflict, making it impossible to independently assess the situation. Dozens are believed dead since Serbs stepped up their campaign to wipe out the pro-independence Kosovo Liberation Army last week. At least 80 people were killed in a similar crackdown in March; in all this year, clashes have killed more than 200.

International monitors near the border said houses could be seen in flames in the besieged village of Junik. The pro-Albanian Kosovo Information Center said the fighting was spreading east of Djakovica, one of the hot spots for the last several days.

In Washington, the State Department signaled the possibility of additional international sanctions against Yugoslavia for provoking the flood of refugees from Kosovo.

``One does feel like the movie called `Ethnic Cleansing’ is replaying itself,″ spokesman James P. Rubin said, referring to the policy of driving rival ethnic groups from their homes during the Bosnian War.

Top aides to Ibrahim Rugova, the president of the Albanians’ self-proclaimed independent government, talked with a European delegation in Kosovo’s capital, Pristina. They accused the Serbs of a ``planned-out scheme of ethnic cleansing throughout the province.″

NATO must intervene, they told the delegation of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, headed by Javier Ruperez.

They urged world powers to increase pressure on Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, who is determined to keep Kosovo from breaking away from Serbia, one of two remaining republics in Yugoslavia.

Ethnic Albanians outnumber Serbs by 9-to-1 in Kosovo and are increasingly insistent on autonomy or independence.

``Unless there is significant international pressure on Belgrade, chances for a peaceful solution to the crisis will be lost forever,″ Albanian delegate Alush Gashi said.

But NATO allies, with 34,000 troops already in neighboring Bosnia, are reluctant to commit another big contingent to the Balkans.

Meeting in Brussels on Wednesday, they agreed to consider whether to deploy combat troops to Albania and Macedonia on Kosovo’s borders, but indicated a decision is not imminent.

``We are keeping all options open,″ NATO Secretary-General Xavier Solana said.

Ambassadors of the 16 NATO nations did agree to accelerate other measures, including technical and military assistance for Albania and Macedonia.

At U.N. headquarters in New York, Secretary-General Kofi Annan strongly recommended keeping U.N. peacekeepers in neighboring Macedonia until at least February. He raised the possibility of sending more U.N. troops to the area.

The 750-member force, which includes about 340 Americans, was sent to the Balkans in 1992 to prevent the spread of the ethnic conflict to other parts of the former Yugoslavia, and is supposed to leave by Aug. 31.

But in light of the increased violence in Kosovo it would be ``premature to proceed with a decision to withdraw″ the force, Annan said in a report to the Security Council.

Besides thousands of displaced Kosovo residents who have sought shelter in the mountains, thousand more have streamed over the border into Albania.

OSCE spokesman Bill Foxton said at least two refugees had died during the trek over the mountains _ a 60-year-old man of a heart attack and a 4-year-old girl killed when her mother, who was carrying her, slipped and fell on a rocky path.

A spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said 2,000 refugees crossed overnight into Albania, bringing the total to about 3,700 since the Serb assault was launched late last week.

Most are women, children and the elderly, who are ``exhausted mentally and physically,″ spokesman Kris Janowski said in Geneva.

Albania’s state-run ATA news agency said about 3,000 more refugees were approaching the border.

In the Serb capital of Belgrade, the Telegraf daily said about 100 policemen had been fired for refusing to go fight in the province.

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