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Wednesday, March 24, 1999 Published at 09:30 GMT

World: Europe

Kosovo Albanians search for safety

Fleeing before their homes are burned

Thousands of Kosovo Albanians have been fleeing the latest Serb offensive and heading for the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia.

Kosovo Section
The border was closed for a while but reports on Wednesday say the Macedonian authorities have now reopened it.

The border was shut to people carrying Yugoslav passports in an effort to control the growing humanitarian crisis there.

The United Nations Food Agency says it needs emergency supplies for more than 10,000 refugees who have flooded in to Macedonia.

Orla Guerin in Kosovo: "The city is starting to look and feel like a war zone"
Most of them have been taken in by local families, but there are also reports of displaced people sleeping rough in the capital, Skopje.

Refugees in search of safety are also converging on big towns in the north and on villages in central Kosovo.

Pristina vulnerable

According to the BBC Correspondent in Pristina, Orla Guerin, some Kosovo Albanians have been on the move since the weekend, when they were forced from their homes by the fighting.

[ image: Refugees from Drenica escaping Serb attacks]
Refugees from Drenica escaping Serb attacks
People are also trying to leave Pristina in their thousands - buses leaving the provincial capital are full. Many cannot get the transport out of either the capital or the province.

Aid workers in Kosovo say they are facing the biggest movement of refugees since the conflict began just over a year ago.

The latest fighting is estimated to have displaced 25,000 people in the province.

Humanitarian organisations

Many of the humanitarian organisations are also leaving the area, and even the local office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees is on standby for possible evacuation from Kosovo.

Paul Wood in Skopje: the border between Macedonia and Kosovo is closed
Those aid organisations that have not left the region say they have to make constant decisions about where the greatest need for their aid is.

Since the shelling began at the weekend, aid agencies have reported that communities have been cleared from large swathes of Kosovo.

Serb military operations have centred around northern and central KLA strongholds.

On Monday, two of the KLA's seven regional commands were said to have been crushed, and the rebels were reported to have been withdrawing from the central Drenica region.

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