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Yugoslavia: Kosovar Refugees In Macedonia Dream Of Home

Stenkovec, Macedonia; 8 April 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Beqir Sfarqa -- a 35-year-old power station worker -- says he lived in peace with his Serbian neighbors in the Kosovar capital, Pristina, until quite recently.

But after NATO air strikes began against Yugoslavia, he says, Serbs beat his uncle to death and a Serbian neighbor with whom he used to play football destroyed his car and home and forced him to flee for his life to the refugee transit camp in Macedonia that he now calls home.

Western leaders say such acts are part of a coordinated Serbian campaign of ethnic cleansing. Belgrade denies the claim, and says the mass of Kosovar refugees leaving the province were driven out by the NATO air strikes.

Accounts from thousands of Kosovar refugees seem to give credence to the western leaders' account of events. And Sfarqa says his only thought is of going back to Kosovo and getting revenge.

"At the first opportunity, I'll go to Kosovo with weapons, and I'll fight against them. Even if it will be peace, I will kill the person who burned my house, my car ... they killed my uncle. I will always think to kill them."

Sfarqa was the only one of dozens of Kosovars who spoke to an RFE/RL correspondent to talk of revenge. But his desire to go home to Kosovo was universal.

Our correspondent in Macedonia asked dozens of ethnic Albanians refugees at the Stenkovec transit camp where they want to go now. Every one of them gave the same answer -- Kosovo.

Arben Gashi -- a 20-year-old chemistry student from Prizren -- sits on a blanket with a packet of emergency rations and ponders the whereabouts of the rest of his family. He is asked if he will go abroad. His answer is an emphatic no.

"We will get back to our country. That is the only country we can live in. We cannot go anywhere else. No, I will never go abroad. I want to get back to my home. I live there. I was born there. And I would like to die there."

In their efforts to alleviate the refugee burden on Macedonia, a number of other countries this week began air-lifting refugees out for temporary stays abroad. But the move is controversial because many see it as rewarding Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic by dispersing Kosovars far from their homes. Many say the further away the Kosovars go, the less chance there is they will return to their homeland.

At an emergency meeting in Luxembourg yesterday, European Union governments backed away from plans to air lift up to 100,000 Kosovar refugees out of the Balkans. Justice and interior ministers for the 15 European Union member states said the EU should concentrate on keeping in the region the majority of the 460,000 refugees who are believed to have left Kosovo over the last two weeks. British officials said London will oppose any proposals for the EU to draw up an evacuation plan, arguing that such a move will encourage Milosevic to believe he can get away with ethnic cleansing. British Home Secretary Jack Straw said "the EU must not do anything that in any way plays into the hands of Milosevic and the Serb terrorists." France is also opposed to a mass evacuation.

The chairman of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Knut Vollebaek -- in a quick visit to Skopje yesterday -- agreed that moving refugees out of the region is not ideal. But he said it may be the best temporary solution to keep more Kosovars from being killed and to relieve pressure on Macedonia and Albania.

"I see that as a matter of principle the refugees should be catered for in the neighboring states, but we also have to see the actual political and economic situation in these countries and assist them also by transferring refugees out of these countries to our own countries."

Fatmire Dumhishi -- a 21-year-old biology student from Mitrovica -- says her entire family has disappeared. She says she doesn't want to move out of the Stenkovec camp until she has news about her relatives or can go back home to Kosovo.

"I don't want to go further. I want to stay just behind the border and when it will be possible, to get back to my home. I don't need to go anywhere else because I don't have anyone abroad. I have my whole family, relatives, cousins, in Mitrovica, so I want to get back to Kosovo whenever it is possible."

NATO says that getting the refugees back home -- and protected by an international military peace force -- will be its top priority once it defeats the Yugoslav army and the Serb special police forces. As U.S. President Bill Clinton said earlier this week, "The refugees belong in their own homes, in their own land."

Ismail Mavriqi -- a refugee in Stenkovec who become separated from his wife and children -- says he is just waiting for NATO to make it safe for him to go back to Kosovo. If his home has been destroyed, he says he will rebuild it with his own hands. He says all other Kosovars share his dream.

"If NATO will guarantee us, I will be back in my home immediately. Kosovo is our fatherland. These people all want to get back to their homes. Just tell us it is safe. I will go even if my house is burned. I will stay anywhere just to be back in Kosovo and be safe there."

Seventy-year-old Xhevahire Dugolli from Drenica says she has absolutely no interest in being sent to Germany or Switzerland. She just wants to end her days in her homeland, Kosovo.

She says emphatically: "If I could, I'd go there tonight."