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Sunday, May 30, 1999 Published at 17:10 GMT 18:10 UK

World: Europe

Refugee crowned Miss Albania

Venera Mustafa: From refugee to beauty queen

A teenage Kosovo refugee has beaten 23 rivals to be crowned Miss Albania 99.

Kosovo: Special Report
It was the first time an ethnic Albanian from neighbouring Kosovo - which is part of Serbia and the Yugoslav republic - had entered the contest.

Venera Mustafa, one of three-quarters of a million refugees to have fled Kosovo, will now represent Albania in the Miss Europe contest.

Albania is host to more than 440,000 of the Kosovo refugees who have fled their homeland or been forced out by Serb forces.

Venera said: "This shows that we [in Kosovo and Albania] are one ... all together."

"I entered this competition because there are almost half a million Kosovars here and I wanted to represent my people."

The 19-year-old student from Pristina, who collected a $6,000 winner's cheque, escaped from Kosovo with her sister and mother.

Beauty contest success was far from their minds as they crossed the border to Albania.

Her mother, Muradije Ramiqi, said: "When I drove through Serb roadblocks, my heart trembled. I was scared they would take away my two daughters."

About 90% of Kosovo's pre-war population of 2 million were ethnic Albanians.

As she was crowned Venera added: "I want to go home as soon as possible."

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