Yugoslavian borders closed, refugees' fate 'alarming'
April 7, 1999
MORINI, Albania (CNN) -- Yugoslavia's borders with Macedonia and Albania, once choked with tens of thousands of displaced ethnic Albanians, stood eerily barren and quiet Wednesday.
Macedonian authorities said many refugees inside its border were shuffled to other camps. But the fate of thousands of others stranded inside Yugoslavia near the Albanian frontier remained unclear.
Aid officials said the flood of refugees that passed into Albania on foot, by tractor and by car over the past two weeks stopped suddenly before dawn.
"It would appear that at three this morning, the Serbian side of the border closed and the refugee flow was stopped. And I'm told by unsubstantiated reports that that they were told to return back to their places of residence, whatever was left of their places of residence," said Doran Vienneau, a monitor for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
Some 10,000 Kosovo Albanians had gathered at the border near Morini, waiting to enter Albania.
White House Press Secretary Joe Lockhart said he had reports Serb forces were forcing the ethnic Albanians back into the Kosovo. "Exactly where I can't tell you," he said.
Asked if this was a positive development, Lockhart bristled: "This is a regime that has gone in and brutally murdered thousands of people. This is a regime that has gone in and rampaged through towns through extortion, murder, rape. We don't know what (Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's) plans are for these people, but we know what he's done to them in the past."
NATO spokesman Jamie Shea called the reports "alarming."
"If it were to be true, it would be alarming indeed, because it is one thing to push refugees over borders where the international community is now increasingly ready to deal with them in a humane way, but it's quite another thing to push them back into a wasteland where there is no food, very little water, no medical supplies, where everything has been looted," Shea said.
"I hope that the Serbian government is not playing poker with people's lives and trying to create a further internal humanitarian crisis at the moment when the international community is on its way to solving the external humanitarian crisis," he added.
Thousands move to new refugee centers
NATO officials said Macedonian authorities moved 25,000 to 30,000 Kosovo refugees from the squalid Blace camp, close to the Macedonia-Yugoslavia border, south to the tent city of Stenkovec overnight.
After hours of uncertainty, Macedonian officials announced Wednesday that another 10,000 refugees from Blace had been transported to Albania.
Some ethnic Albanians from Blace already had been moved to the NATO-run Brazda tent city over the past few days.
Relief officials said 10,000 refugees from the camp were unaccounted for.
Aid workers criticize Macedonia
Aid workers sharply criticized Macedonia for its handling of the Blace evacuation, saying refugees were hustled away without being told where they were going, and some families were separated.
"These buses arrived unannounced with no forewarning and no information about their destinations," said a spokesman for the U.N. refugee agency in Geneva.
NATO Brigadier Tim Cross, a senior military commander among those organizing the Stenkovec center, told CNN that a registration system has been set up to reunite refugee families.
He said only families who want to leave the region will be supported by NATO to do so. Many refugees told CNN they want to stay in the area and eventually return to Kosovo.
NATO nations have pledged to accommodate tens of thousands of Kosovo refugees temporarily.
NATO struggling to keep refugee camps sanitary
Cross said Wednesday NATO desperately needs help caring for the ethnic Albanian refugees in Macedonia.
Cross told CNN that, given the hot weather, sanitation is a priority.
"My principal concern is sanitation. The weather has been very hot today.... Deep-trench latrines need replacing, and we need people in here to help us," Cross told CNN's Matthew Chance at the 1,400-tent camp at Stenkovec.
"What we have done thus far is 'coped.' But I'm not sanguine about the next 48 hours," Cross said. The refugees need showers and privacy after their ordeal, he added.
Similar aid is needed at other Macedonia camps where NATO has been providing food, medical aid and shelter, he said.
More food aid sought
The U.N.'s World Food Program said Wednesday it had appealed to donor nations for a further $24.1 million "to save lives of Kosovar refugees" in Albania, Macedonia and Montenegro, bringing to $46.3 million the total cost of its aid operations in the region.
The U.N. food agency said if the number of refugees fleeing the violence in Kosovo rises to more than 650,000, the organization will need even more money.
Russia dispatched several giant cargo trucks Wednesday loaded with 900 tons of food, medicine and clothing. The trucks left Moscow for Montenegro, where their supplies will be distributed by the United Nations.
Correspondents Matthew Chance and Catherine Bond contributed to this report.
NATO rejects cease-fire, resumes bombing YugoslaviaRELATED SITES:
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