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Kosovo Crisis Update

Kosovo Crisis Update

10 May 1999


In a day-long procession of dozens of tractor trailers, a total of 7,677 people crossed the Morini border into Albania Sunday.

It was a virtual repeat performance of Saturday when more than 8,000 fled to safety.

On both days, the bulk of the arrivals were from villages around the Pec area in western Kosovo, and Istok to the north-east.

Most of the arrivals Sunday appeared to be part of the same group of refugees who had arrived Saturday and had been forced out of the region by a large-scale Serbian offensive to clear the region. Many of the refugees had fled from their original villages and spent anywhere from one week to one month in the surrounding mountainous countryside.

Some reported they had not eaten anything substantial for three days and food was running low everywhere though there were few signs of any serious malnutrition among the latest arrivals.

The refugees Sunday told consistent stories of houses being torched and men being taken - either singly or in small groups from tractors fleeing the region, or in larger groups from villages in the area. Refugees said these groups varied in size from 20-30 to up to 200.

A village called Zac, several kilometres from Istok, was repeatedly mentioned by arriving refugees who said many men, perhaps several hundred, had been taken there by Serbian forces. Pistols and other small arms were brandished in the faces of people, including young children, during the operation and several people had been killed in three days of fighting. In a new twist, some refugees said women were insisting on staying behind in the village when the men were separated out.

Though the evidence of abductions appeared overwhelming, the exact numbers of people taken could not be independently verified and neither could specific reports of killings and executions.

One middle aged man said his 85-year-old sick mother had been executed Friday in front of him in the village of Saradran (Trstenik) in the Pec area. He had been separated from the rest of his family and wandered aimlessly around the Morini crossing, waiting to be reunited with them. He said he had personally seen the bodies of four other villagers who were executed in the basement of their home.

Several refugees reported that between eight and 30 people had been killed in a village called Trbuhovc near Istok during Serbian clearing operations and many men had been taken away.

These witnesses said people from several nearby villages had been herded together in this village before they finally left for the border.

Refugees said Serbian forces bombarded the Pec area on Friday and launched a comprehensive "sweep" of the entire region, flushing civilians out of the hills and out of the villages.

Witnesses said in the village of Djurakovac near Istok as many as 300 men had been seized and marched away. In the village of Starodvorane, up to 100 men could have been taken off tractors. In Labljane near Pec, another 50 young men were reported taken. In a village called Saradranit, some refugees reported "hundreds" of men crowded into a school after being separated from their families.

Field officials said it was clear that many men, dozens and possibly several hundred had been seized, but the individual numbers could not be confirmed independently.

Some refugees also reported seeing individual atrocities. Several said in the village of Nabrdje near Pec they had seen three brothers taken from their home and killed on May 1. Their bodies and home were subsequently burned. Others said as many as 20 people had been killed in the village.

Refugees from Djakovica reported heavy "street" fighting in the heart of that town Friday and lighter fighting Saturday. They said the fighting - apparently between elements of the Kosovo Liberation Army and Serbian forces - included individual street fighting and not only long distance small arms exchanges. As they left the town they said many buildings were ablaze.

Several refugees said they had seen scattered bodies in the streets of the town.

One arrival from Prizren Friday said he had worked in the local hospital. He was ordered back to work by the Serbian authorities but when he turned up, he was arrested and sent to the border. He said several nights earlier a total of 116 bodies had been admitted to the hospital morgue and a week ago a total of 97 bodies were admitted, including 23 women and children.

FYR of Macedonia

On Sunday, 220 people crossed into the FYR of Macedonia from Kosovo. Most of them had travel documents.

Since Wednesday, only a handful of people have arrived in the FYR of Macedonia. Macedonian officials on Thursday gave UNHCR assurances that refugees from Kosovo will be allowed into the country.

On Monday, officials were preparing to transport some 90 refugees who had volunteered to move from camps in the FYR of Macedonia to Albania. There, facilities for 6,000 people had been prepared for refugees in the FYR of Macedonia who will want to move out of its overcrowded camps.

UNHCR-IOM Humanitarian Evacuation Programme

A total of 1,015 refugees departed on Sunday under the humanitarian evacuation programme from the FYR of Macedonia to third countries, including 261 to Canada, 282 to Italy, 167 to Portugal, 305 to the United Kingdom.

Some 36,000 refugees have departed under the programme in which UNHCR has received offers for 135,000 places in 39 countries.