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Wednesday, March 31, 1999 Published at 15:19 GMT 16:19 UK

World: Europe

Kosovo aid airlift takes off

Local families in Kukes are taking in the refugees

 Click here for live coverage on the crisis

Click here for map showing refugee movements

Kosovo: Special Report
International efforts are being stepped up to help the thousands of refugees who are streaming out of Kosovo, with the first batch of aid supplies arriving in the Albanian capital, Tirana.

Millions of dollars of aid have been pledged. But for tens of thousands of hungry, ill and desperate refugees stranded in Albania, this will be the first international aid since they fled their homes.

Vuk Draskovic, Yugoslav Deputy Prime Minister: "Refugees running away from Nato bombs"
The BBC's correspondent in Tirana, Duncan Kennedy, says the airlift is intended to provide tents and bedding to thousands in refugee camps in and around the Albanian capital.

With widespread reports of Serb forces carrying out summary executions and setting fire to Albanian homes, Nato leaders have emphasised their determination to intensify their bombing of Yugoslavia.

At the same time, Russia has ordered some of its warships to the area to monitor the situation.

David Sillito looks at the days events
Nato decided to widen the range of sites to be attacked after rejecting a conditional offer by Yugoslav President Milosevic.

The proposal, brokered by the Russian Prime Minister, Yevgeny Primakov, offered to withdraw some Serb forces from Kosovo if Nato stopped its air strikes.

[ image: Nato air strikes targeted Belgrade, Pec and Pristina]
Nato air strikes targeted Belgrade, Pec and Pristina
The Nato alliance threw it out, saying it wanted all Serbian forces to leave Kosovo and attacks on civilians to stop before the bombing campaign was halted.

UK Defence Secretary George Robertson described the offer as "the first crack in Milosevic's wall of obstinacy".

It showed, Mr Robertson said, the Yugoslav leader had "miscalculated again when he thought Nato would grasp at this inadequate and spurious offer."

Refugee crisis

As the refugee crisis deepened inside some of Europe's poorest countries, the UN's Secretary General Kofi Annan appealed to the international community to step up its relief efforts.

[ image:  ]
He also pleaded with Yugoslavia's neighbours to keep their borders open to refugees.

The European Union, which has just released $10.7m worth of aid, is sending its humanitarian aid commissioner Emma Bonino to Tirana.

Before she left, she told the BBC that the crisis depended on how many refugees would have to be catered for by neighbouring countries.

[ image: Aid agencies deliver much needed food]
Aid agencies deliver much needed food
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said that up to 550,000 refugees had been displaced in Kosovo - a quarter of the population in the southern province before the conflict.

"We are seeing a very serious refugee crisis, which is worsening by the hour," UNHCR spokesman Kris Janowski said. "People are arriving exhausted, traumatised and terrorised."

Sokol Gjoka: Families cannot look after all the refugees
In Albania, where 85,000 refugees have arrived in the last few days, scarce resources are being stretched to the limit.

Sokol Gjoka, spokesman for the Albanian foreign ministry, said that in the northern town of Kukes local families had begun to take in refugees.

Kukes hospital is treating the sick and wounded and is stretched to its limit. A hospital spokesman said that up to 350 people had been treated, 50 of whom had been wounded by the Serb military and police forces.

Macedonian fears

Macedonian officials say it was impossible for his country to support the refugees on a long-term basis.

"This is too much for Macedonia's economic capabilities," said Undersecretary at the Foreign Office, Tihomir Ilieviski.

Ilieviski: How Macedonia is coping with the refugees
Macedonia also fears is that such a huge number of Kosovar Albanians will upset its delicate ethnic balance.

UN relief officials planned to meet on Thursday to draw up a new international appeal for Kosovo, saying the existing one for $64 million was no longer enough.

[ image:  ]

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