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Tuesday, March 30, 1999 Published at 09:04 GMT 10:04 UK

World: Europe

Horror stories from the borders

Refugees are flooding across Kosovo's borders

Widespread murder, rape and looting by Serb paramilitary forces in Kosovo is being reported by refugees fleeing the province.

Kosovo strikes
These tens of thousands of refugees, Europe's new wave of dispossessed, are pouring into Macedonia, Albania and the Yugoslav Republic of Montenegro.

They have travelled in farm vehicles or trucks or on foot in poor weather to reach sanctuary. Many even crossed minefields to get to the Kosovo border.

International aid workers estimate that more than 70,000 have arrived in Kukes, northern Albania in the last two days alone but that the figure could be far higher.

Clarence Mitchell reports from Kukes on how the refugees have been stripped of identity
The BBC's Clarence Mitchell, in Kukes, said: "Albanian officials have been coping with, at times, a chaotic shuttle system of buses, cars, lorries and tractors provided by the Albanian authorities and local people all helping to take these refugees further into the country."

The refugees in Kukes, who have increased the town's population four-fold, were stripped of their money, passports and papers as they left the Kosovo border - testimony to what Nato spokesman Jamie Shea described as Serbia's attempt to cancel out their identities.

Echoes of Bosnia

Those who were driving vehicles had number plates taken from their vehicles by the Serbs to prevent them from returning to their homes in the future.

Correspondents say the same tactic was used during the ethnic cleansing of Bosnia and Croatia during the early and mid-90s.

BBC News' Paul Welsh speaks to women and children fleeing to Montenegro
On the Kosovo-Macedonia border, similar stories are being told of the worsening situation, which has forced the refugees to leave their homes.

The BBC's Paul Wood, in the Macedonian capital Skopje, says the border is choked as the Kosovo Albanians.

[ image: Many refugees tell of widespread atrocities]
Many refugees tell of widespread atrocities
He said: "One man said the bodies of women and children could be seen lying in the street of his home town of Kacanic.

"The man said that police were going from house to house, taking away young men for summary execution."

Paul Wood reports from Skopje on the plight of the refugees
Sources close to the rebel Kosovo Liberation Army also say that men are being rounded up in the regional capital, Pristina, and taken to the soccer stadium.

But our correspondent says that with no independent witnesses, these claims cannot be verified.

Correspondents say that it is well known that the Kosovo-Macedonia border is heavily mined so the fact that so many have fled shows the level of fear in Kosovo.

Italy assembles camps

In southern Italy, soldiers have turned an abandoned air strip into a refugee camp in the port city of Bari, preparing for some of the thousands of refugees expected to cross the Adriatic.

Some 500 rusty trailers will be turned into shelter as Italy intervenes in the humanitarian emergency.

And an Italian navy ship, loaded with trucks and buses to transport the refugees fleeing Kosovo, was ready to set sail for Albania on Monday.

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