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Monday, March 22, 1999 Published at 21:51 GMT

World: Europe

Kosovo refugees flee Serbs

Refugees are converging on towns after fleeing their homes

By Jacky Rowland in Pristina

The United Nations refugee agency, the UNHCR, says more than 25,000 Kosovar Albanians have fled their homes since Serbian security forces began a big offensive in the province on Saturday.

Kosovo Section
The UNHCR says it is dealing with the biggest movement of refugees in a three-day period since the Kosovo conflict began just over a year ago.

Thousands of Kosovar Albanians have converged on Pristina and other big towns after fleeing their homes in villages close to rebel-held territory.

The UNHCR has been delivering relief supplies to the refugees, although it says its work has been hampered by increasingly aggressive police controls.

Orla Guerin witnesses scenes of desperation in Kosovo as the crisis worsens
Aid workers have been unable to reach the town of Srbica, the scene of three days of fighting, but even from some distance they could hear gunfire and see houses burning.

One woman fleeing Srbica said police wearing white uniforms and black balaclavas came to her house and killed three male members of her family.

The Yugoslav army has been continuing an offensive it began on Saturday following the departure of international ceasefire monitors.

The army now says it has routed the rebels from two important strongholds: in the central Drenica region and near the northern town of Podujevo.

Violence spreads to Pristina

For the first time in this conflict, Pristina is feeling the effects of the violence that has swept other parts of the province.

The city is swarming with police, often twitchy and aggressive following the reported killing there of four police officers on Sunday.

There have been explosions in two cafes in the city centre and the sound of gunfire has crackled through several suburbs.

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