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Friday, June 5, 1998 Published at 22:54 GMT 23:54 UK

World: Europe

Serbs accused of Kosovo atrocities

Flames rise above an ethnic Albanian village near Pristina

Ethnic Albanians fleeing the Serbian offensive in Kosovo have accused Serb police of shooting unarmed civilians in the back.

The BBC's Ben Brown in Kosovo: "Yet again there is another Balkan exodus"
One ethnic Albanian, who said his brother was among those shot, said Yugoslav forces killed at least five men in a village near the capital Pristina early on Sunday afternoon.

He said the Serb police rounded up people from their homes, separated a group of ethnic Albanian men from women and children, and shot the men in the back.

He said the total killed could be as high as 11. "Police fired in their back," he said.

Refugee exodus

An ethnic Albanian tells BBC Correspondent Karen Coleman: "I saw the shooting."
The allegations of atrocities came as the European Union (EU) announced it was doubling its aid to help the thousands of ethnic Albanian refugees who have continued to flee the latest Serbian offensive.

More than 17,000 ethnic Albanians are reported to have crossed into the neighbouring states of Albania, Montenegro and Macedonia.

Some of the refugees said they walked for up to 15 days through treacherous mountain terrain to reach Albania. From there, many have been bussed to local villages or centres to be taken care of.

[ image: Homes have been abandoned]
Homes have been abandoned
More than 10,000 ethnic Albanians are said to have already gone into Albania to seek sanctuary from the latest Serb offensive.

Another 7,000 are reported to have arrived in Montenegro, Yugoslavia's smaller republic, and others have fled to neighbouring Macedonia.

BBC correspondents said the exodus was still continuing.

Serb Media Centre in Pristina spokesman: "Police are trying to maintain law and order."
The UN's refugee agency said more than 40,000 ethnic Albanians in Kosovo have left their homes, with 20,000 estimated to be in the rugged mountain border area with Albania.

A UN spokesman warned on Friday that they could pour into Albania at any moment.

Extra aid

[ image: Ethnic Albanian refugees arrive in Albania after fleeing the fighting]
Ethnic Albanian refugees arrive in Albania after fleeing the fighting
The EU foreign ministers are meeting in Luxembourg on Monday. They are doubling their medical and food aid package for Kosovo to $4.5m to help Albania cope with the influx of refugees.

In addition the EU and the UN are together expected to launch a regional programme for refugees.

They are also likely to increase pressure on Serbia by reaffirming a ban on new investments in the country.

Although previously approved by the international Contact Group, this had effectively been put on ice last month after the launch of a US brokered dialogue between the Serb authorities and the ethnic Albanians in Kosovo

The BBC Brussels Correspondent, Oana Lungescu, said international agencies are preparing for another humanitarian crisis in the Balkans.

The EU is already distributing food in northern Albania through three non-governmental organisations - Oxfam and Children Aid Direct from Britain, and the Belgian branch of Doctors Without Borders.

Because this is one of the poorest regions in what is Europe's poorest country, international aid is going not only to refugees but also to the local population.

Diplomatic efforts

[ image:  ]
Over the last seven days the Serbian police are reported to have mounted a massive operation to get rid of separatist guerrillas of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA).

They have attacked several villages close to the border with Albania. Eyewitnesses who fled the region talk of houses being burned and shelled.

Nato and the Contact Group on Kosovo are due to meet separately next week to discuss the latest crisis.

The US Balkan envoy, Robert Gelbard, is also attempting to kickstart ongoing talks between ethnic Albanian leaders and the Serb authorities.

Ethnic Albanian leaders boycotted the talks on Friday in protest at what they said was attempted "ethnic cleansing" by Serbia in Kosovo.

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