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Saturday, May 8, 1999 Published at 16:27 GMT 17:27 UK

World: Europe

Refugees flood into Albania

Refugees were in tears as they crossed into Albania

Thousands of Kosovo refugees crossed the border into Albania on Saturday - the majority coming from western Kosovo. Some said Serb forces had been shelling their homes and ordering them to leave.

Kosovo: Special Report
More than 5,300 refugees were reported to have arrived in Albania via the Morini crossing on Saturday.

Representatives from the United Nations refugee agency, the UNHCR, said the influx had slowed somewhat since the morning, when refugees had arrived at the border in large numbers by tractor-wagon from around the town of Pec, in western Kosovo.

The BBC's Jim Fish: "It's quite striking how they have put together some semblance of normality"
The latest groups of Kosovo Albanians were said to be arriving from Zur, close to the border, where they had been dropped off by buses.

Some refugees said Serb forces shelled homes and shot at people. They reported seeing wounded people in the village of Lluka Drini, a village that served as a gathering point for several thousand refugees on Friday.

[ image: A boy peers out of a tractor that has taken him across the border]
A boy peers out of a tractor that has taken him across the border
One refugee at the border told the French AFP news agency: "We hid in the hills for a week because the Serbs were burning down our villages."

She said her husband was beaten and two of her neighbours taken away by masked men wearing clothing.

"They said they were going to kill them, and they ordered us to leave, pointing their rifles at us. We don't know what happened to the two men," she said.

UNHCR spokesman Ray Wilkinson said the villages and hills around Pec had apparently become a target in the Serbs' campaign to clear the province of Kosovo Albanians.

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

Other refugees reported serbs seizing young men from the tractors on which they were travelling towards the Albanian border. Scores of men were reportedly taken in the village of Strajadan, near Pec, and another called Llabian.

"The Serbians took young men from all the tractors," said Avdyl Prekalla, after crossing into Albania.

[ image: Over 5,000 people streamed into Albania on Saturday]
Over 5,000 people streamed into Albania on Saturday
His daughter-in-law, Cyme, said four of her brothers and two cousins were taken from their tractor. She said refugees were gathered in a field in Strajadan and the Serbs then took the young men away.

Mr Wilkinson said some refugees maintained they had seen as many as 20 people taken from their tractors and killed.

The BBC's Fergal Keane: The movement of the Kosovars does seem to be scientifically controlled
The UNHCR official said the influx of refugees into Albania was in sharp contrast to the previous two days when the border was calm. He said that only 569 refugees came through Morini on Friday, most of them fleeing the southern city of Prizren.

Some of the latest arrivals in Albania said they had tried to cross into Macedonia by train but had been turned back two days ago and had returned to their villages, only to leave again on Saturday morning.

Borders deserted

Macedonia's border crossings were reported empty on Saturday, and state radio said that less than 100 people had crossed from Kosovo in the previous 24 hours.

The former Yugoslav republic effectively closed its border on Wednesday, saying it would only allow in the same number of refugees as were being sent off to other countries. It later altered its position by saying its border was not closed but "controlled".

However the UNHCR said on Saturday: "For all practical purposes, all border crossings from Serbia into Macedonia are closed to Kosovo refugees."

The few who arrived on Friday said that up to 3,000 people may be stuck on the Serbian side of the border, the agency said.

Some 132 airlifted refugees arrived in Italy from Macedonia on Saturday - the first of 10,000 Kosovo Albanians that Italy has offered to take in.

The first arrivals were destined for the former cruise missile base at Comiso, where about 5,000 refugees will eventually be accommodated.

[ image:  ]

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