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Wednesday, May 26, 1999 Published at 16:09 GMT


World: Europe

Refugees greet Rugova

Ibrahim Rugova: Seen by many as Kosovo's president-in-exile

By the BBC's Paul Wood in Skopje

The Kosovar Albanian leader, Ibrahim Rugova, has made his first visit to refugee camps in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

Kosovo: Special Report

Arriving at the airport, he issued a statement saying that refugees would not go home unless Nato was able to provide a security presence inside Kosovo.

Large, cheering crowds greeted Dr Rugova as he toured the refugee camps at Blace and Stenkovac.

Although not supported by influential parts of the rebel Kosovo Liberation Army, for many in the camps he is quite simply their president-in-exile.

Refugees chanted "We are all...we are all for Rugova...Rugova to be our President...of Kosovo" as he walked through the crowds who had come to see him.

'Kosovo is empty'

Dr Rugova himself would not say if he supported a land war by Nato, but he said that refugees would never return to their homes without an international security presence.

"Without an international presence, it's impossible today to have people in Kosovo ... I've been in Pristina. Pristina is empty; Kosovo is empty," he said.

In the eyes of some Kosovo Albanians, Dr Rugova was damaged by statements attributed to him while he remained in Kosovo during the bombing.

But Western governments have been making a real effort to bolster his authority, hoping that he will have a central role to play in the Kosovo that emerges after a settlement is reached with Belgrade.



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