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Tuesday, April 6, 1999 Published at 06:00 GMT 07:00 UK

World: Europe

Respite for some refugees

Refugees board a plane destined for Turkey

Kosovo Albanian refugees have been airlifted out of overcrowded camps in the Macedonian capital, Skopje, to Turkey, which has promised respite for 20,000 people escaping Serbian violence.

Kosovo: Special Report
More than 1,000 refugees are reported to be arriving in Turkey to ease the developing humanitarian crisis in Macedonia.

And as the airlift got under way Nato once again unleashed new attacks on Serbian targets, aided by improving weather conditions. The towns of Nis and Novisad were reported to have been hit by air strikes on Monday night.

Jonathan Charles: "The queue of refugee cars is said to be 20 miles long"
But the airlift has its critics. The Albanian Government has protested against plans to airlift Kosovo Albanians out of the region because it says such moves further Serbian aims.

"Albania doesn't want to be part of [Yugoslav President] Milosevic's ethnic cleansing mechanism," Information Minister Musa Ulqini said.

On Monday, President Clinton said that the United States and other countries are trying to relieve the crisis, with Washington accepting 20,000 refugees on a temporary basis.

Paul Wood: "The refugee airlift has removed the cork from the bottle"
He also announced "Operation Sustain Hope" - a co-ordinated effort to fly in humanitarian aid to help refugees from countries including Italy and Germany.

The president conceded that it had not been possible for Nato to prepare fully for the scale of the refugee crisis.

Safe in Turkey

The first plane-load of bewildered refugees arrived at a small airport in Turkey in the middle of Monday night. Some complained that they had been put on the plane without being told where they were going.

Paul Welsh: "For now, it seems the refugees are trapped"
Others said they did not want to go and one man even tried to escape from the airport before being caught by Turkish police.

The refugees were registered and taken for medical checks before being moved on to a camp of tents being set up by the Turkish Red Crescent.

"We are trying to get everything ready as fast as we can," said Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit on Monday.

Backlog at Macedonia border

[ image:  ]
Refugees arriving in Macedonia have formed queues reported to be 25km long stretching back into Kosovo.

Those who have already crossed the border are being moved in convoys to the new camps, which were set up by Nato after Macedonia said it would not take any more refugees.

The UNHCR has offered to take over processing the queues, saying it can move 20,000 refugees per day, far more than is being managed at present.

UK Development Secretary Clare Short is holding talks with Macedonian officials in an attempt to speed up the processing of refugees.

Albania asks for aid

Despite a massive influx of refugees, Albania has agreed to accept more refugees who had sought shelter in Macedonia.

UNHCR Spokesman Nicholas Morris: "We didn't think this would happen"
The country has already taken in more than 230,000 ethnic Albanians, but the authorities say they are unwilling to ask other countries to take in people who have arrived there.

Albania is facing enormous difficulties coping with the influx of refugees, and is requesting urgent humanitarian assistance.

As well as Turkey, the United States, Britain and Germany are among countries which have offered to temporarily shelter the thousands of people who have been driven from their homes in Kosovo.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Monday accused Serb security forces of "shocking violations of human rights" in uprooting up to 400,000 Kosovo Albanians from the province.

Nato destroys fourth bridge

The emergency humanitarian measures came as Nato bombers attacked more targets in Yugoslavia. Nato reported destroying a fourth bridge over the Danube, in an area to the west of Belgrade.

According to Nato, the latest missions have taken particular aim at Serbian ground forces accused of terrorising Kosovo Albanians.

The official Yugoslavian news agency Tanjug said the southern Serbian town of Nis had been hit by missiles on the 13th consecutive day of air strikes.

Earlier in the day, Nato bombing was reported to have been focused on the Nis headquarters of the Third Yugoslav Army, which is responsible for Kosovo province.

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