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Yugoslavia: Refugees Flooding Over Kosovo Borders Again

London, 16 April 1999 (RFE/RL) -- A British military spokesman on the Macedonian border with Kosovo says the past few days have seen a further increase in the number of ethnic Albanian refugees seeking sanctuary in Macedonia.

Brigadier Tim Cross, who heads a British military team erecting a tent city for the refugees, says 3,500 people, many of them families with children, have crossed the frontier in the past 24 hours, while a further 3,000 are waiting to cross over.

Reporters in neighboring Albania and Montenegro, the smaller republic in what is left of Yugoslavia, also report a quickening build-up of refugees.

Cross recounted what he had heard from many of the refugees crossing into Macedonia.

"Over the last two or three days, a lot of them have said that, in a sense, that they have left because they've just felt they've had enough. Quite a lot of the refugees this morning said that there was evidence of burning and looting in their villages, and whilst they were living in the hills, they could see this happening, and they left therefore because they were, quite evidently, scared. Many of them have lots of young children, and these young children, frankly, have been living in the hills now for two or three weeks, and as any parent would do, I think they've just said enough is enough."

Officials of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees were quoted today as saying they believe that Serb forces are seeking to drive out the remainder of the hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanians still in Kosovo who have been internally displaced from their homes.

Cross spoke by telephone from a tent city on the Macedonian border with Kosovo to the daily British Defense Ministry news briefing in London. The briefing, which follows NATO's admission yesterday that an alliance pilot may have been responsible for a bomb attack on a vehicle carrying refugees in southwest Kosovo, focused on the humanitarian effort to bring relief to the 560,000 ethnic Allbanians who have poured into Albania, Macedonia and Montenegro.

NATO officials are still studying cockpit film of the reported bombing, as reporters seek answers to the many unresolved questions that surround the incident, including how many people died, and how to reconcile different accounts from Belgrade and NATO.

A British Foreign Office Minister, Tony Lloyd, who this week toured refugee camps in Albania and Macedonia, and had talks with the Albanian president and Macedonian prime minister, said today the NATO air campaign against Serb military targets will continue.

Lloyd said: "If we want to ease the suffering of the people of Kosovo, then the absolute priority must be for NATO to continue until its aims are achieved."

General Sir Charles Guthrie, chief of Britain's defense staff, told the news briefing that NATO pilots have flown more than 400 sorties in the past 24 hours. He said attack aircraft launched successful strikes in and around Kosovo against a wide range of targets including ammunition and fuel dumps, bridges, communication links and an airfield. He said two MiG 21 planes on the ground were destroyed, as well as three tanks and six artillery positions.

He said there was also a successful attack against an air base from "which we believe Serb aircraft have been flying over Albania." All NATO aircraft returned safely to bases.

Guthrie showed aerial film of what he claimed was a mass grave at the village of Pusto Selo in Kosovo. He also alleged there had been mass killings by Serb forces in Kosovo, but there was no independent corroboration of his claims. At a later NATO briefing in Brussels, alliance spokesman Jamie Shea also said that air strikes against Serb forces will continue despite the incident involving the convoy.

"The mission continues. Yesterday I expressed NATO's regret for a tragic accident that occurred on Wednesday. But NATO puts its setbacks behind it, and this is what we have done, and are going to continue to do. We are not going to be blown off course. We are keeping one eye on the main issue, which is that [Yugoslav President Slobodan] Milosevic has to be stopped."

Shea also said that Serb forces find themselves in what he described as a "vise", between NATO air strikes and the separatist Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK). He called the UCK "a phoenix which rises from the ashes".

"Contrary to the claims of Belgrade that it would be able to liquidate the [UCK] in a week, even with the most brutal phase of the operation that we've seen in the entire Kosovo conflict over the past year, it still seems to be strong, at least in terms of recruits."

Shea denied that there are any "official contacts" between NATO and the UCK. But he said NATO knows that the separatist force has been operating along the border between Albania and Kosovo and that it has "even been successful in opening a corridor" across the border. Shea said the route may have been used by some of the refugees fleeing Kosovo.