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Friday, May 7, 1999 Published at 17:48 GMT 18:48 UK

World: Europe

Macedonia border deserted

The Kukes camps is to close, amid safety fears

The UN refugee agency says it is "deeply concerned" over the fate of about 1,000 Kosovo Albanians trapped by the closure of the border between Kosovo and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

Kosovo: Special Report
The UNHCR says its staff saw the refugees forcibly returned to the Yugoslav side of the border on Wednesday evening, pushed back first by Macedonian authorities, then by the Serb side.

Once they were back in Yugoslav territory, Serbian troops could be seen beating and shoving the refugees until they were out of sight, the UNHCR reports.

Macedonia reopened the border on Thursday, after border posts were closed on Wednesday afternoon.

But BBC Correspondent Jim Fish reports that the border area is almost deserted, with only a handful of refugees having crossed in the last 24 hours.

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

Kukes camp to close

Dennis McNamara of the UNHCR: "Very hard call"
A major refugee camp in northern Albania is to close, amid fears for the safety of refugees remaining near the Kosovo border.

An UNHCR envoy, Dennis McNamara, said camps could not remain "near military areas".

"We are doing everything possible to persuade the people in the camps to leave as soon as possible," he said.

He promised, though, that "we won't close the tents on top of the refugees".

The announcement follows reports of refugees at Kukes coming under fire from Yugoslav artillery.

But many Kosovo Albanians are reluctant to journey any further from their homeland.

UN visit to Kosovo

The Yugoslav authorities have agreed to allow a visit by United Nations officials to assess humanitarian needs in Kosovo and Serbia.

An advance team of officials will leave for Belgrade in the next few days, to examine the conditions to which refugees would have to return in the future.

The team is expected to report back to a meeting in Geneva next week of all UN agencies involved in responding to the Kosovo crisis.

EU aid to Montenegro

[ image: Refugees at Rome airport: Macedonia says it will only take more Kosovars if others leave]
Refugees at Rome airport: Macedonia says it will only take more Kosovars if others leave
The European Union has pledged $13m in aid to Montenegro - Serbia's sister republic in the Yugoslav federation - which is sheltering 70,000 Kosovo refugees.

The EU's acting humanitarian aid commissioner, Emma Bonino, said she was impressed how Montenegro had borne the "heavy burden" of the refugees.

Mrs Bonino is visiting Montenegro, Albania, and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, to assess their aid needs as a result of the refugee crisis.

The EU has agreed to spend $160m on helping Balkan countries which are bearing the brunt of the crisis.

Her visit comes as the Macedonian Government reiterates its demands that that other countries must do more to help it deal with the crisis.

Border closed to highlight crisis

The Kosovo-Macedonia border was closed at 1700 local time (1500 GMT) on Wednesday, with the country saying it could not cope with the refugee influx.

But sources in Skopje now say the border was only closed briefly in a gesture to highlight the huge numbers of refugees it is obliged to accept.

Macedonia has reassured the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) that it will continue to take refugees.

And the interior minister told the UNHCR it was the Yugoslav side of the border which was closed.

Macedonia has warned that it will still allow in only as many ethnic Albanian refugees as third countries can evacuate.

Moves to transfer thousands of refugees from Macedonia to Albania begin on Sunday, with 6,000 going to new camps at Korce in the south-east.

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