'Just go': Refugees describe terror in Kosovo
Aid agencies appeal for help
March 30, 1999
TUZI, Yugoslavia (CNN) -- In the final days of her pregnancy, Lindita, a Kosovo Albanian woman from the city of Pec, was in no shape to travel. But when Serb police knocked on her door Monday and ordered her to leave, she had no choice.
"Where to go? (The police) said, 'Go to Albania or wherever you want to go. Get out of (the) house.' I take children, husband, just go. Just like that," Lindita said.
Some 24 hours later, after an arduous journey across the mountains, she and her family found temporary sanctuary in the home of an ethnic Albanian man in Tuzi, in the neighboring Yugoslav republic of Montenegro.
Lindita, her husband and two children are among more than 100,000 refugees the United Nations estimates have fled Kosovo since NATO launched airstrikes against Yugoslavia on March 24. A total of more than 550,000 people, a quarter of Kosovo's population, have been displaced from their homes in the last year.
Most of the refugees tell stories of brutality: of being forced at gunpoint by Serb forces to abandon their homes, of executions of Kosovo Albanian leaders, of a systematic torching of ethnic Albanian neighborhoods throughout the province.
NATO officials said Pec, a city of 100,000 residents in western Kosovo, has been "almost totally destroyed."
Humanitarian organizations have heard from eyewitnesses that Serb forces were going from door to door in the provincial capital of Pristina, kicking ethnic Albanians out of their homes, creating a human column several miles long headed for the Macedonian border.
"It is ethnic cleansing on a massive scale," one humanitarian aid official told CNN. "There is total terror in Pristina."
There were also unconfirmed reports that refugees were being shelled by mortar and artillery fire in the Pagarusa Valley, along Kosovo's western border with Albania, British Air Commodore David Wilby said.
Yugoslavia's deputy prime minister acknowledged some Yugoslav troops and Serb police may be committing atrocities in Kosovo, but he said it was not part of an organized campaign against ethnic Albanians.
"Emotions rise up extremely, and it's possible there are circumstances to crack down, maybe atrocities, but it is not a state strategy," Vuk Draskovic told Israel's Army Radio.
The U.N. refugee agency said Tuesday it was starting to airlift emergency aid for the influx of ethnic Albanian refugees who have fled to neighboring Albania.
"The situation is desperate, and it's getting worse and worse by the hour, with thousands more crossing the border from Kosovo into Albania predominantly, but also into Macedonia and Montenegro," said Chris Janowski, spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Geneva.
He said the British government had supplied a transport plane, which would shuttle emergency supplies from Denmark into the Albanian capital, Tirana. "This needs to be expanded," Janowski said.
At least 90,000 have fled to Albania since the start of the NATO airstrikes. Another 9,000 have entered Macedonia in the past few days, and the Yugoslav republic of Montenegro now has a total of 75,000 refugees. About 30,000 Serbs in Kosovo have fled toward the Yugoslav capital Belgrade, the UNHCR said.
Kosovo's main border post with Albania, through which refugees had flooded in recent days, was reopened on Tuesday after being shut for 14 hours by Yugoslav guards, and more refugees kept coming Tuesday.
"They need international help to cope," Janowski said in reference to Albania, Macedonia and Montenegro, which are among the poorest regions in Europe. "It's the biggest emergency we've seen in Europe since the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina."
The UNHCR showed up in the Albanian city of Kukes with all the food it could muster -- 5,000 loaves of bread and some meals -- in an attempt to provide some basic assistance to the refugees, Pandora Ketri of the Albanian Red Cross told CNN.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was also contributing to relief efforts in Albania, Macedonia and Montenegro, after the ICRC pulled out of Kosovo because of the deteriorating security situation.
The World Food Program and U.N. Children's Fund were also rushing supplies to the area, officials said.
The Albanian authorities were using buses, trucks and other vehicles to transport the tens of thousands of refugees from Kukes in the poor northern part of Albania to regions farther south.
"We need everything," sighed a local UNHCR staffer in Kukes, trying to cope with the refugees early Tuesday.
The European Union announced $11 million in refugee aid for Albania on Tuesday. In addition, Denmark, Norway, Italy and Switzerland promised their own financial and logistical contributions.
The United States gave $8.5 million in aid to U.N. relief efforts, and several U.S. charities and humanitarian organizations also pledged their help.
The Israeli government on Tuesday also announced it would provide emergency refugee aid.
An international donor conference to address the refugee crisis in a bigger context was expected in a few days.
For Lindita's family and several other Kosovo Albanians who have taken refuge in a schoolteacher's house in Tuzi, at least there is comfort in knowing they are safe.
As for their host, the sudden influx of guests into his home is a welcome change.
They are "like my children, like my mother, like my father ... like family," he says.
Correspondents Mike Hanna, Chris Burns and David Ensor contributed to this report.
Desperate refugees flee Kosovo, accuse Serbs of atrocities
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