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Friday, June 11, 1999 Published at 02:26 GMT 03:26 UK

World: Europe

Refugees warned over return

Some 850,000 refugees are waiting to return

Aid agencies gearing up to return more than 850,000 refugees to Kosovo fear there could be a mass rush once peacekeepers move in behind retreating Serb troops.

They are warning that a chaotic return could result in casualties from mines, unexploded ordnance and booby-traps.

There are also severe food shortages in the province and half the houses have been destroyed, the UN has said.

The UN's refugee agency said a campaign in Albania and Macedonia would inform refugees about conditions in Kosovo, including the danger of mines.

[ image: The UN is planning to feed 1.5m people for a year]
The UN is planning to feed 1.5m people for a year
But before the first refugees head home, the World Food Programme will have to take in some 1,000 tonnes of food a day to feed an estimated 650,000 people displaced within the province.

Many Kosovo Albanians have spent weeks hiding from Serbian forces in the hills, scavenging for food.

The WFP is considering air drops into more remote areas, and mobile bakeries are preparing to distribute freshly baked bread - a staple of the Kosovo diet.

"It will be a huge problem," WFP spokeswoman Anne Di Lellio said.

"We know 50% of the houses have been destroyed. We know businesses have been destroyed. People have been scavenging for food for a month. We will basically enter a territory without food."

Cash appeal

The UN expects to care for 1.5 million people for a year.

In Geneva, the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) has appealed for some $246m to fund Kosovo emergency operations from July to December.

"We'll be spending $10m a week until the end of December," spokesman Kris Janowski said.

The WFP and the UNHCR are basing their plans on the assumption that the bulk - if not all - of the refugees will return within about three months.

They will establish offices in seven Kosovo locations - the capital Pristina, Pec, Kosovska, Mitrovica, Djakovica, Urosevac and Gnjilane.

Refugees cautious

Refugees in the camps embraced each other on hearing the news of the peace deal which will allow them to return home.

BBC Correspondent Jeremy Bowen said the mood at Kukes in Albania, which houses 100,000 refugees, was one of relief, rather than celebration.

They listen to the news constantly, but many cannot quite believe what is happening.

One man told the BBC he was not hoping for anything. "For 10 years, the Serbs have been lying to us, we don't trust anyone," he added.

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