Kosovo Crisis Update
Forty-six refugees straggled into the Morini crossing on Tuesday amid intense fighting in which NATO planes conducted airstrikes against Serbian forces battling the Kosovo Liberation Army along the border.
Two of the arrivals were slightly wounded, apparently by flying debris.
In the worst fighting so far across the border, five rocket and artillery rounds fell over a span of 15 minutes in an area as close as 500 metres from the Morini entry point in the northern Albanian border town of Kukes at mid-afternoon, forcing aid workers to withdraw farther inland.
Four explosions were reported in the evening at Krume in the Has district, about 25 kilometres north of Kukes, near a hospital and a mosque, where 500 refugees were encamped.
Aid workers have withdrawn from Krume, where a heavy KLA presence has been reported. Serbian forces have been firing at KLA positions in Krume and UNHCR is sending trucks to Has to evacuate refugees who want to leave.
Serbian artillery and mortar attacks against Pogai near the Morini border and villages in Has have prompted thousands of local Albanians to flee their homes in the last several days. At least two villagers have been killed in the bombardment.
Tuesday's arrivals at Morini told UNHCR that Serb forces were detaining Kosovars at police and railway stations and other public buildings for two or three days to be used as human shields. They said some 20 civilians were detained at each police station.
The refugees gave accounts of continuing atrocities committed by Serbian troops against civilians in Kosovo. In one incident at Tusus, a suburb of Prizren, 25 people were allegedly killed by Serbian police on May 26. Police reportedly entered houses at random, forced males from 12 to 90 years of age onto courtyards and executed them. One refugee said seven close friends were among those killed. The report could not be verified.
FYR of Macedonia
Arrivals in the FYR of Macedonia continued to be a trickle, with 370 entering the country on Tuesday. Half of the refugees came in through the unofficial border crossings; the others have documents. In a sudden shift in policy, Serbian authorities have refused to allow Kosovars without proper papers to leave. Last month, 30,000 people were transported to the Macedonian border in a renewed ethnic cleansing campaign.
For the first time since May 17, no arrival was reported at the main border crossing at Blace.
Refugees in a group of 197 who entered Tabanovce said police and paramilitary troops had been going on a house-to-house search detaining young people at Gnjilane and Pristina, where they originated. Some said they left their homes six weeks ago when Serbian troops began setting houses on fire.
In other developments:
- 103 refugees left from Senakos and Cegrane camps for Korce in Albania under UNHCR's humanitarian transfer programme. More than 600 refugees have volunteered to leave for Albania since UNHCR began a campaign to look for people who wish to relocate from the FYR of Macedonia to ease pressure in the camps and make room for new arrivals.
- UNHCR has placed an order for 20,000 blankets with local Macedonian companies. Other items are also being procured locally. In the meantime, airlift flights bringing humanitarian aid to Skopje continue, including tents and plastic sheeting.
- Contingency stocks are improving, allowing the delivery of 1,650 tents to camps in southern Albania. In the next five days, a shipment of 127 metric tons of soap will arrive from Egypt via Greece. Convoys of trucks ferrying aid items from the United Kingdom, Slovakia and Greece are arriving in Skopje. UNHCR is also looking at warehousing space for materials to be used for its winterization programme.
Republic of Montenegro
More than 1,500 refugees entered Montenegro from Kosovo on Sunday and Monday.
Most of the arrivals came from the northern Kosovo town of Kosovska Mitrovica, where systematic ethnic cleansing has been reported.
Confirming earlier reports by refugees in the FYR of Macedonia, the Kosovo arrivals in Montenegro said they had been told by Serbian authorities to obtain a document intended as a food ration card but in fact to be used to establish residence. The arrivals said their identity cards were destroyed upon leaving Kosovska Mitrovica.
UNHCR-IOM Humanitarian Evacuation Programme
Departures under the humanitarian evacuation programme of UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration totalled 1,026 on Tuesday, bringing the overall count to 74,014. Destinations were Australia, Austria, Croatia, Germany, Norway and the United Kingdom.
UNHCR has been offered 137,000 places in 40 countries under the programme.