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Thursday, May 6, 1999 Published at 16:47 GMT 17:47 UK


World

Kosovo Albanians: Who's left?

A Kosovar family fleeing the province

By BBC South-East Europe analyst, Gabriel Partos

Even taking into account the recent wars in Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina, the speed and scale of the current campaign of ethnic cleansing in Kosovo are without precedent.

Kosovo: Special Report
According to the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), over 700,000 ethnic Albanians have fled Kosovo in the past six weeks - since the beginning of Nato's air strikes against Yugoslavia.

Before the bombing began, about 100,000 Kosovo Albanians had fled the fighting that flared up in March last year; and an estimated 300,000 had gone abroad during the 1990s to work or study abroad or escape Serbia's repressive rule.

So the number of Kosovar Albanians who are now outside Kosovo amounts to well over one million - out of a total of nearly 1.8 million born in the province. In other words, around 60% of Kosovo Albanians are at present abroad - the vast majority of them as refugees.

Still in the province but homeless


[ image: Many Kosovo Albanians had to flee after their homes had been destroyed]
Many Kosovo Albanians had to flee after their homes had been destroyed
What is impossible to estimate, though, is just how many of those left behind are actually still in their homes. That is because the UNHCR and other international aid agencies have no presence in Kosovo at the moment.

However, several hundred thousand people are believed to have either fled the fighting or been expelled from their homes.

Many of those displaced have sought refuge in areas that are under the control of the ethnic Albanians' guerrilla force, the KLA. Others are on the road.

Thousands of refugees who have arrived in Albania or Macedonia say that, to avoid danger, it has taken them weeks to get to the border. As to how many have been killed, it would be difficult even to hazard an estimate. Last year's total for those killed - mostly ethnic Albanians - was 2,000. This time round the numbers could be much greater.

Milosevic's strategy

The refugees report that the mass expulsions have taken place all over Kosovo. This appears to weaken the suggestion that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic may be planning to partition Kosovo by keeping the northern part, emptied of ethnic Albanians, and leaving the rest to the Kosovo Albanians.

However, he may still try to go for that option and offer to allow the refugees back - but only to the regions that he might no longer wish to control. In other words, the refugees expelled from the southern areas could be used as bargaining chips in any future negotiations.

Alternatively, the process of ethnic cleansing could continue to the point where most, if not all, Albanians will have left Kosovo. Kosovo's 200,000 Serbs - many of whom have also fled the fighting or the KLA's violence over the past year - could then become the majority.

However, either of these options - the partial or full expulsion of Kosovo Albanians - would depend on Nato failing to defeat the Serbian security forces. At present that prospect seems very unlikely. And if Nato wins, it would do its best to help return the refugees.



[ image:  ]





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