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Tuesday, May 4, 1999 Published at 11:59 GMT 12:59 UK

World: Europe

'Face Nato bombs' refugees told

Thousands of refugees spilled into Albania over the weekend

Thousands of refugees are continuing to stream out of Kosovo into Albania amid reports that some of those trying to enter the country had been told by Serb police to go back home to act as human shields, and "face Nato bombs".

Kosovo: Special Report
Some of those arriving in Albania on Sunday said that Serb border police had prevented women and children from the southern Kosovo town of Prizren, from crossing the border.

The UN refugee agency, the UNHCR, on Saturday said it feared the "final cleansing" of Prizren had begun, with some 23,000 refugees from the town having crossed into Albania between Thursday and Saturday.

Residents began to flee Prizren, with an original population of 150,000, on Thursday when Serb troops spread throughout the city after Nato bombed one of their barracks as part of its air campaign.

Fergal Keane at the Morina border crossing: "One of the crimes of the century is being perpetrated"
However, unconfirmed reports emerged on Monday that Serb forces had stemmed the flow of refugees from Prizren on Sunday. One report said Serbs were allowing men from the southern town to flee to Albania, while keeping the women behind.

The UNHCR said on Monday that more than 395,000 Kosovo refugees had left the province for Albania since March 1998

Macedonia under pressure

Refugees are still flooding into the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia, and some 5,000 Kosovo Albanians arrived there on Sunday.

(Click here to see a map of refugee movements.)

The new arrivals added to pressure for places in the already overflowing camps.

The UNHCR's chief spokesman in Macedonia Ron Redmond said the camps were housing nearly three times more refugees than they were designed for, with nearly 90,000 people housed in nine camps. He said the refugee agency was trying to persuade the Macedonian Government to expand the sites available.

The UNHCR's Ron Redmond tells of the crowded conditions in Macedonian camps
Mr Redmond said: "We simply don't have a place to put all of these tens of thousands of refugees."

He said Macedonia's Government had cited economic pressures and the country's delicate ethnic balance as prime concerns arising from the overflowing camps. Prime Minister Ljupco Georgievski on Sunday renewed his appeal to the international community for money to help handle the crisis.

Mr Redmond said: "We just have to find places to put these people. Anything is better than Kosovo for them, anything is better than sitting in no-man's land."

Blair visit

UK Prime Minister Tony Blair is set to visit Macedonia as part of a two-day trip to the Balkans to reassess the refugee situation and shore up support for Nato's campaign against Yugoslavia.

Paul Wood: Mr Blair will be confronted with the full extent of the refugee crisis
The UK has so far accepted just 330 refugees compared with Germany's total of almost 10,000 accepted so far.

Downing Street has said that it is ready to give shelter to more people. But unlike other countries, the UK Government was not intending to set a quota for the number of refugees it would take.

German pledge to help

Germany on Monday said that it would double to 20,000 the number of refugees that it was prepared to accept.

[ image: Aid agencies are concerned about overcrowding in Macedonian camps]
Aid agencies are concerned about overcrowding in Macedonian camps
Interior Minister Otto Schily told German Radio that his country could not turn its back on human suffering. He said he had managed to persuade other EU countries that have so far failed to fulfil their pledges to accept more refugees.

"I don't think Germany will be overwhelmed if we raise the number to 20,000," Mr Schily said.

"We have to move to help relieve the emergency conditions of the people who need help. I have to do what I can," said the German interior minister.

[ image:  ]

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