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Yugoslavia: Kosovar Civilians Stay Indoors After NATO Airstrikes

Prague, 26 March 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Aid workers say people in the Kosovar capital, Pristina, are staying in doors after air strikes by NATO forces overnight.

Daloni Carlisle, a spokeswoman for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Pristina, told RFE/RL by telephone yesterday that the streets are heavily patrolled by Serbian security forces and tanks. Carlisle said that she had seen almost no civilians on the street around her office, which is in the normally bustling center of Pristina. She said that after hours of overnight airstrikes around the city and shooting on the street, people are too afraid to go out.

"The situation is extremely tense. People are very afraid. And we're now hunkering down for another night. It's a state of near panic here."

Carlisle -- who is one of just 22 foreign aid workers remaining in Kosovo -- said aid workers have not been able to get outside yesterday to assess how the NATO airstrikes have affected civilians. She said hospitals report some casualties. But they say the numbers are "entirely manageable" and that they have been able to cope with the injuries. Carlisle would not say how many casualties were reported. It is also unclear whether they include Serb security forces or Kosovar civilians.

The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that at least 25,000 people have left their homes in Kosovo since the weekend. An estimated 100,000 have fled their homes this year. The Red Cross and other aid agencies had spent the last several weeks bringing supplies such as food, medicine and blankets to many of those refugees.

Carlisle said that as of Tuesday, most of the displaced had found shelter with other civilians in Kosovo. But many are living in overcrowded conditions. There are often 35 to 40 people in one house. And doctors say many are suffering from health problems because of overcrowding and poor sanitation.

But Carlisle says that since international observers left Kosovo last weekend, the refugees say their biggest concern is safety.

"The major characteristic is fear. When we ask people what they need the first thing they say is security. They don't ask for medicines first. They don't ask for food first. They ask for safety."

However, there were few signs that people were trying to leave Kosovo. Fernando Delmundo, a spokesman for the UNHCR in Skopje, in neighboring Macedonia, said only a small number of people tried to get over the border into Macedonia yesterday. He said the roads in Kosovo are heavily patrolled and that even if they want to, it is unsafe for civilians to try to move.