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Monday, April 26, 1999 Published at 19:37 GMT 20:37 UK

World: Europe

Red Cross to return to Kosovo

More than 10,000 refugees have fled Montenegro for Albania

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) says it has received permission from Yugoslavia to resume its activities in Kosovo for the first time since Nato began its bombing campaign.

Kosovo: Special Report
ICRC chief Cornelio Sommaruga has also spoken of his shock at the consequences of the Nato air strikes against Serbia. He told the BBC that he had been to the northern city of Novi Sad where half the population - 90,000 people - were without drinkable water.

He had earlier had a brief meeting with the three US soldiers captured by Yugoslav forces.

Mr Sommaruga said the Yugoslav President, Slobodan Milosevic, was "very positive" about the return of the ICRC into the Yugoslav province and "opened for us all possibilities to work according to our rules in Kosovo".

Jeremy Cooke in Albania: "Every square inch of shelter, however inadequate, is being pressed into service"
But the ICRC chief made it clear that the two sides still had to agree the details of how the relief agency would operate in the territory.

Speaking after a meeting with the Yugoslav leader, he said President Milosevic had told him that Yugoslav forces would try to keep Red Cross workers safe but added, "we cannot guarantee safety from the bombing" by Nato warplanes.

Red Cross workers left Kosovo after the Nato air raids began on 24 March.

Visit to PoWs

ICRC's Head of Operations, Pierre Kraehenuehl: "For our own security we needed to talk at the highest level"
Mr Sommaruga also briefly visited the three US soldiers who were captured by President Milosevic's forces last month. This was the first contact between the ICRC and the three captured men.

The ICRC said later that the Yugoslav authorities had granted the relief organisation a full visit to the three servicemen on Tuesday.

Jacky Rowland reports: "President Milosevic said the Red Cross could go anywhere in Kosovo in safety"
The three soldiers, Staff Sergeant Andrew Ramirez, Sergeant Christopher Stone, and Specialist Corporal Steven Gonzales, were captured on 31 March near the Yugoslav-Macedonian border.

The US has repeatedly called for the Red Cross to be allowed access to the prisoners of war. During the meeting on Tuesday, Red Cross officials will be allowed to hold private talks with the prisoners and a doctor will be on hand to examine them.

Mr Sommaruga said that officials would "very urgently" meet representatives of the Yugoslav army, Serbian security forces and the interior ministry to discuss details of their relief operation.

"It is quite clear that security arrangements will also have to be negotiated with Nato in order to be able to work safely in Kosovo," the ICRC chief added.

President Milosevic's office said: "There is no obstacle from the Yugoslav side for the representatives and teams of the ICRC to carry out their role and tasks on the whole territory" of Yugoslavia.

Refugee flood

News of the ICRC's return to Kosovo came as aid agencies in Albania prepared for a new influx of refugees from the province.

[ image: The UNHCR says more than 600,000 people have escaped from Kosovo]
The UNHCR says more than 600,000 people have escaped from Kosovo
Kosovo Albanians have been arriving from the province with grim stories of further atrocities. Nato estimates more than 500,000 people are displaced inside Kosovo after being forced from their homes by Serb paramilitary forces.

A United Nations High Commission for Refugees spokesman, Ron Redmond, said: "People say that paramilitaries, masked men with beards, rounded up people house to house. In one village, 21 people were killed by these men."

He said the latest refugee accounts depicted roaming Serb paramilitaries butchering people in villages of northern Kosovo, having emptied towns in the south "with clinical precision".

Kosovo Albanians arriving at the Albania-Montenegro border spoke of Serbian killings and atrocities in Montenegro triggering the new influx of refugees into Albania, while those arriving in Macedonia described attacks by Serb gunmen on civilians in villages near Pristina.

Fleeing Montenegro

BBC's Jeremy Bowen: Just yards from a sort of refuge
More than 10,000 Kosovan refugees from Montenegro have entered Albania since Tuesday, bringing the total to more than 33,000 since the Nato air campaign began, according to UNHCR figures.

Macedonia has received about 175,000 refugees, nearly 30,000 of whom have been airlifted out the country to other European countries.

Three planeloads left on Monday morning taking refugees to Sweden, France and the Netherlands.

Overall, some 600,000 refugees are thought to have fled Kosovo in the last month, according to UNHCR estimates.

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