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Yugoslavia: Kosovo Refugees Unlikely To Return Until Serbian Troops Leave

Prague, 9 October 1998 (RFE/RL) - United Nations officials said today that more than 340,000 ethnic Albanian refugees from Serbia's Kosovo province are unlikely to return to their villages and towns as long as Serbian police and military forces remain deployed there. The international aid agency, Doctors Without Borders, says tens of thousands of refugees have no chance to survive the winter unless they are allowed to return.

Judith Kumin, a spokeswoman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told RFE/RL today that very few Kosovars are returning to their communities. She says the only ones returning have been living without food or shelter in the mountains and forests. Kumin says 1,500 displaced ethnic Albanians returned earlier this week to the village of Fustica about 30 kilometers southwest of Pristina after Serbian soldiers left. She adds that most have kept their belongings packed and are ready to flee again at a moment's notice. Kumin says Fustica reflects the refugee situation across Kosovo.

She says an estimated 200,000 ethnic Albanians are still displaced in Kosovo, with another 100,000 in other parts of Serbia, Montenegro or Albania. She said at least another 40,000 are seeking asylum in Western Europe.

Meanwhile, U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke, in Belgrade today for talks on Kosovo with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, said there hasn't been any progress toward a diplomatic solution since he last met Milosevic earlier this week.

Holbrooke said he is intensifying diplomatic efforts as NATO increases its preparations for possible air strikes against Serbian military forces in Kosovo. He made the comment before meeting Milosevic in a bid to gain Belgrade's compliance with United Nations Security Council resolutions on Kosovo. Earlier today, British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said NATO's plans involve what he called "successive coordinated attacks" to prevent Milosevic from continuing to deploy military forces in Kosovo.