Kosovo refugees tell of 100-mile trek to Albanian border
April 22, 1999
From Correspondent Jane Arraf
KUKES, Albania (CNN) -- After days of relative quiet at the Yugoslav-Albanian border, almost 1,000 people from the province of Kosovo walked across to safety Thursday.
Most of them were from Metrovica, a city near Kosovo's provincial capital of Pristina. The refugees said that over the past few days, they had walked for more than 100 miles (160 kilometers) -- some of them until their feet bled.
The refugees say they had no choice, that they were told by paramilitary soldiers that they would be killed if they didn't leave Metrovica. But then, they said, as they approached the Albanian border, they were turned back for a time by Yugoslav authorities.
Forced to leave most everything behind, the dispossessed of Metrovica carried not much more than their grief.
"I am crying because Kosovo is our land," said a 14-year-old girl. "How would you feel if you were forced to leave your home?"
The refugees talked of many more people on the move in Kosovo -- so many, some said, that at times they couldn't see the road.
"It's this kind of game of chess with human figures that the Yugoslav authorities seem to be playing at," said Ray Wilkinson, spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.
The Kosovars from Metrovica said their town had been emptied.
"We didn't want to get out from the houses, but when we saw so many groups of people, then we started to go," said one young man. "What could we do?"
After being given their first solid meal in a week, the refugees scrambled onto U.N. trucks. Most didn't know where they were going or where they would end up, and officials in Albania couldn't tell them, either.
The United Nations calls this the most difficult and complex refugee crisis since the war in Bosnia. For those who crossed the border Thursday, their immediate future seems to be as unpredictable as their journey.
CNN INDEPTH SPECIAL SECTION:
Milosevic opens door to new peace talks on Kosovo
Extensive list of Kosovo-related sites
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