Kukes, Albania; 5 May 1999 (RFE/RL) - The UN refugee agency UNHCR is discussing with the Albanian government closing down refugee camps in the north that are sheltering 30,000 Kosovars. The UNHCR wants to move the refugees south away from the border area where there is danger of attacks from Serb forces inside Yugoslavia. A UNHCR spokesman says the camps were always intended to be only a transit area. He said it could take two or three weeks to shut down the camps if the refugees can be persuaded to move to the interior of Albania.
The UNHCR also says it has reached agreement with Macedonia to move between 5,000 and 6,000 refugees from Macedonia to Korca in Albania. The agency said it is looking for refugees who agree to go voluntarily as a way of relieving the pressure on Macedonia's overstretched facilities.
Kosovar Albanians, fleeing Serb forces in Kosovo, continue to stream into Albania and Macedonia, where camps are already overcrowded. The UN agency says 16,000 refugees arrived in the two countries yesterday.
In Germany today, U.S. President Bill Clinton began a two-day diplomatic mission expected to focus on Kosovo. He told a U.S. air base on arrival that NATO and the U.S. have no quarrel with the Serb people, only with the intolerant policies of hate and ethnic cleansing directed by Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.
Clinton says the U.S. is proud of the accomplishments of many of its Serbian-Americans, noting that Serbs and Americans were allies in World War II.
He reiterated NATO's conditions for stopping its 40-day bombing campaign against Yugoslavia:
The Kosovars must be allowed to return home safely and have self-government;
Serbian forces must withdraw from Kosovo,;
An international military presence, with NATO at the core, must be allowed in Kosovo to maintain and ensure the peace.
Clinton visited the troops after a stopover at NATO headquarters in Brussels to discuss the air campaign and new diplomatic initiatives to resolve the Kosovo crisis. He is expected to tour another U.S. base at Ramstein in Germany, visit Kosovo refugees and meet with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.
Meanwhile, U.S. Army officials say two American pilots were killed today when an Apache helicopter exploded in a fireball during a training mission in northeast Albania.
A U.S. military spokesman said witnesses saw the Apache explode in a remote mountainous area in northeast Albania. He said the cause of the crash was unknown, but it appeared some of the ammunition on the chopper had exploded.
It was the second Apache to crash in Albania. The dead pilots are NATO's first reported fatalities since air strikes began against Yugoslavia.
Twenty-four specially equipped tank-killing Apaches were deployed two weeks ago, but they have not yet joined combat.