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Thursday, April 1, 1999 Published at 00:19 GMT 01:19 UK

World: Europe

Kosovo refugees face starvation

A camp inTirana houses some of the thousands who fled

 Click here for live coverage on the crisis
Click here for map showing refugee movements

Kosovo: Special Report
As the international effort to organise emergency aid for Kosovo refugees is stepped up, the United Nations is warning that civilians in the province could face starvation within 10 days.

The head of the UN World Food Programme, Catherine Bertini, said her organisation had no way of reaching them, and air drops had been rejected as too dangerous.

Nato says tens of thousands of people in Kosovo are living in the woods and hills, with no access to food or water.

[ image: A-10 Thunderbolt ready for action at Aviano air base in Italy]
A-10 Thunderbolt ready for action at Aviano air base in Italy
As the refugee crisis inside and outside Kosovo continues to escalate, the UK Defence Secretary George Robertson underlined Nato's determination to intensify air attacks on Yugoslavia.

Nato says it will target Serb tanks and troop concentrations in particular, but that nowhere in the country is immune.

The headquarters of the elite Serbian special forces in Belgrade is among the targets reported struck.

Nato air strikes have been reported near Kosovo's capital, Pristina. Serbian news reports said five explosions were heard from the direction of the airport and Gracanica, and a further two were heard at 2300 local time (2100 GMT).

The BBC's Ben Brown: Refugee faces tell tales of trauma and despair
Nato decided to widen the range of sites to be attacked after rejecting a conditional peace plan by Yugoslav President Milosevic.

Mr Robertson said Mr Milosevic must meet three conditions to bring about an end to the attacks:

  • An immediate and permanent end to the killing in Kosovo
  • The verified withdrawal of Serb forces
  • A political settlement allowing refugees to return home

Russian warships

Russia is preparing to send warships to the Mediterranean to monitor developments in Yugoslavia. It says a reconnaissance ship will set off on Friday, with six more due to follow.

Milograd Popovic, Serbian Deputy Minister of Information: "The refugees are fleeing the bombs"
Moscow has accused the United States of preparing to send ground troops into Kosovo. Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said Russia had reliable information that Washington was considering a plan to let Kosovo break away from Yugoslavia, or to divide up the province.

But the US condemned Russia's decision to send warships to the Mediterranean. The State Department said Moscow's plans were not helpful and expressed concern about the kind of signal this would send to Yugoslavia and other countries in the region.

[ image: Serbs say factories, apartment buildings and schools have been hit]
Serbs say factories, apartment buildings and schools have been hit
The Serbian Red Cross has launched an appeal of its own to help victims of the Nato air strikes. It said apartment buildings, refugee camps, and schools had been hit.

BBC World Affairs Editor John Simpson, who is one of the few western journalists still in Belgrade, said there had been no official reaction to Nato's rejection of President Milosevic's peace deal on Tuesday.

He said there appeared to be relatively few casualties in the city's hospitals but they seemed to be preparing for more.

Pristina 'being cleared'

John Simpson reports from Belgrade (report vetted by Serb censors)
Nato says Kosovo Albanians are now being forcibly expelled from the provincial capital, Pristina.

Nato spokesman Jamie Shea said that, according to reports from refugees reaching the borders, the town of Orahovac in the south-west of the province was also being cleared of its population.

[ image: Albania has taken the largest number of Kosovo refugees]
Albania has taken the largest number of Kosovo refugees
Nato accused Yugoslav authorities of trying to eliminate the identities of Kosovo Albanians driven out of the province, by stripping people of their personal papers and destroying public records and archives.

Mr Shea said the Yugoslavs were destroying the property deeds, birth certificates, marriage licences and financial and other records of Kosovo Albanians

Emergency aid

As the refugee crisis deepens, US President Bill Clinton has authorised $50m in emergency relief.

The BBC's Nicholas Witchell looks at the day's military and diplomatic developments
Half will be sent to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and the rest will pay for shelter and food.

French President Jacques Chirac called for an urgent European Union meeting to organise emergency aid for Kosovo.

The first British aid flight has arrived in the Albanian capital, Tirana, carrying tents and bedding for the thousands of refugees currently living in camps there.

A total of 125,000 people have fled Kosovo since Nato bombings began last week, the UNHCR says.

According to the refugee agency's latest figures, 85,500 of them have gone to Albania. On Tuesday, refugees were crossing the border at a rate of up to 2,000-3,000 an hour.

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