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Wednesday, March 31, 1999 Published at 00:08 GMT 01:08 UK

World: Europe

Aid pledged to Kosovo refugees

The refugees are homeless and without food

Offers of aid for the thousands of refugees fleeing Serb troops in Kosovo have started coming in from governments around the world.

Kosovo: Special Report
The UK Government is spearheading the relief effort by sending 42 tonnes of emergency supplies to Albania.

France and Canada have offered help, Germany said it would fly out 20 tonnes of food and medical supplies, and the European Union has released a further $10million of aid.

The US is supplying goods and financial aid, while Norway, Sweden and Denmark are sending other vital supplies.

Clare Short: "Substantial further assistance is needed for the refugees"
Japan is sending money and Greece is offering mobile hospitals.

And in a gesture of Muslim solidarity, Iran pledged food, medicine, clothes and tents to help the refugees in Albania and Macedonia.

Meanwhile Russia and Belarus said they have agreed to co-ordinate aid to the Yugoslav victims of the NATO air strikes.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which has been co-ordinating aid for the refugees since 1998, says 90,000 people have fled from Kosovo in the last week. Nato puts the refugee tally at 118,000.

The agency also said 460,000 people had been displaced - either to other locations within Kosovo or to neighbouring countries - between the start of the Kosovo conflict in March last year and the launch of air strikes last week.

Albania, Macedonia and Montenegro have appealed for aid for the refugees now swamping them to be sent as soon as possible.

The World Food Programme is taking care of supplying food, while non-governmental organisations are supplying medical aid.

More money needed

But more assistance is still desperately needed after a poor response to the UNHCR's January appeal for donations from international governments.

Paul Welsh reports on the tragedy faced by one refugee family
"We can't manufacture aid out of thin air - we really need the governments' help," said a UNHCR spokeswoman.

The most difficult aspect of supplying aid was trying to anticipate the movements of the refugees in order to get supplies to them as quickly as possible.

[ image: Children and the elderly are the most vulnerable]
Children and the elderly are the most vulnerable
"It's a brutal climate out there, and the longer it takes to get accommodation sorted, the more they suffer," she said.

The UK Government, through the Department for International Development (DIFD), has sent 450 six-person tents and blankets.

Development Secretary Clare Short said an already "harrowing" situation had "rapidly deteriorated" in the past two days.

An aid transport plane is due to fly to the Albanian capital Tirana, as soon as Nato allows air space.

Ms Short said further aid would be supplied from the UK using the £10m announced on Monday by Prime Minister Tony Blair.

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