Kosovo Crisis Update
More than 7,000 refugees crossed the border into Albania at the Morini crossing Tuesday. Many told stories of the widespread abduction of hundreds of young men and the deliberate killings of at least some of them.
A total of 3,260 people left Kukes, the majority staying only one night before moving further south. A greater emphasis has been placed on this rapid movement through the town in the last few days and has been extremely successful. A total of around 260,000 people have now moved through this transit point inland.
The closure or transfer of the tented refugee camps in Kukes is also under active consideration. No decision has been taken at this time but UNHCR, government authorities and other concerned agencies are exploring this option as one way to alleviate the bottleneck of refugees at Kukes. Around 100,000 refugees remain in the mountainous area, an estimated 30,000 in tents. UNHCR and the government have been trying to encourage this hard core of refugees to leave Kukes and seek more permanent accommodation elsewhere for a variety of reasons: the unstable security situation near the border, the extreme difficulty in sustaining such a large population in a remote area, and the added difficulties the presence of so many semi-permanent refugees poses in trying to cope with new influxes.
The Kukes area was always considered as a transit point for incoming refugees and not a semi-permanent region and the government and UNHCR would like to see that situation resumed.
There were at least four different groups of people who crossed the border on Tuesday.
Some refugees continued to come from the Djakovica area and some reported new atrocities in the region. These reports from Djakovica have been so consistent that the region undoubtedly has been one of the most violent and cruel in the whole of Kosovo, turning it at times into a virtual killing field.
One of the most vivid stories Tuesday was from a young female nurse who herself had been on the run for some time. She reported that about two weeks ago three men in their 60s were executed in cold blood with a single bullet to the head from close range. She was able to reach one man who was still alive, but was unable to do anything else except watch him die as she cradled his head in her lap. She reported seeing other dead bodies in the region.
Later in the day Tuesday several hundred people arrived mainly on tractor trailers, some on foot, from Zrze, a village in Prizren. These people had been told to leave Tuesday and within a few hours were en route to the border, but there was apparently no further major harassment against them.
Their departure appeared to signal the total cleansing of that village.
Two other groups arrived from a series of villages in the Suva Reka and Mitrovica regions and from the surrounding hills where they had fled. These two groups consistently reported stories of large numbers of men being separated from their families, of seeing bodies and of individually witnessing atrocities.
None of these reports can be independently confirmed, but like the killings in Djakovica a week earlier they were very consistent and specific in detail.
These two groups were among the most traumatized of any refugees crossing the border in recent weeks. Many women children and even the men were crying uncontrollably. One tractor trailer carried only young children and a few old women who all defiantly gave 'v' for victory signs as they reached the border - even as tears streamed down the faces of every single one of them.
Another tractor trailer virtually crashed through the border past startled police. It was carrying one young man who had been shot by Serbian authorities two days earlier. At least three people with gunshot wounds crossed into Albania Tuesday.
The most overwhelming and consistent element of the stories of refugees arriving from the Suva Reka-Mitrovica areas and the mountains was the disappearance of large numbers of men. In the last few days men were rounded up from the various villages before the trailer tractors left or were pulled off the tractors themselves. The reports suggest the disappearance of hundreds of men from these two groups. Several refugee witnesses said the figure could be as high as 2,000-3,000. None of these figures can be verified.
Many refugees told of individual atrocity stories. Several refugees interviewed by UNHCR field staff said there was a major incident in a village called Studime near Vucitrn. Serbian forces reportedly attacked the area three days ago and police then moved in and separated many men out. One man reported 24 people from his family had been killed and he had personally seen the corpses. Other refugees said the figure could be as high as 100 dead.
In another incident, other refugees said hundreds of people had been taken to a large field in the village of Smrekovnica in Vucitrn where as many as 500 men were subsequently led away. Their fate is unknown.
One tractor driver from Veliki Kicic in the Mitrovica area said during the confusion of the villagers' flight there he saw all the men separated from the convoy and six or seven killed on the spot.
The fourth group of people said they had fled their villages around two weeks ago and hid in surrounding hills and mountains. Food had become extremely short and then Serbian forces attacked them. Some men were reportedly killed and hundreds of survivors were then taken to a large factory (which was named Damper) in the town of Vranic in Suva Reka. They were held for one night, many of the men were again led away, and the mainly women and children were sent to the border.
FYR of Macedonia
Trains offloaded some 8,400 refugees in the FYR of Macedonia over the past 24 hours.
As huge numbers continued to arrive, the Skopje government agreed to expand the newly established camp at Cegrane, bringing its capacity to 40,000 from 25,000.
Some of the arrivals told reporters that the threat of starvation was one of the reasons that prompted them to leave, particularly in the Podujevo region, where Serbian security forces have been on the offensive against the Kosovo Liberation Army since December. They said shops had been looted and burned and there was no food available in the area.
Some of the arrivals were badly beaten and showed injuries on their backs, thighs and arms. One man who used to work for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said he could not move his fingers because his hands were so swollen.
UNHCR staff identified 42 of the 102 men who had been separated from their families last Saturday at Prugovac, 15 kilometres from Pristina.
The men said they were taken to the police station in Pristina and questioned about KLA. These men were presumably those who were found to be "innocent" and they were told to board the train. The others are still detained and were reportedly moved to Lipljan. Most of the women are now in Cegrane so the men will be taken there.
The arrivals also said that Glogovac, which previously had a population of about 70,000 and which in March was swollen with tens of thousands of displaced people, was being emptied. Police were reportedly going door to door in nearby villages and were sending buses full of people to Pristina, where they were put on trains to the FYR of Macedonia.
Several men told UNHCR they had witnessed mass killings two days ago in a small village called Vrbovac. About 15 men and women were reportedly massacred by paramilitary. Those who survived the incident ran into the hills, where they spent two days before being chased out by other military/police/paramilitary and bused to Pristina. The report could not be confirmed independently.
UNHCR-IOM Humanitarian Evacuation Programme
Departures under the humanitarian evacuation programme from the FYR of Macedonia to third countries totalled 1,130 on Tuesday, including 154 to Austria, 248 to Canada, 168 to Denmark, 152 to the Netherlands, 159 to Norway, 41 to Romania and 208 to Turkey.