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Thursday, June 17, 1999 Published at 18:45 GMT 19:45 UK

World: Europe

Refugees surge home

Tractors took the refugees out of Kosovo - now they are taking them home

The flood of ethnic Albanian refugees crossing the border back into Kosovo is escalating.

Kosovo: Special Report
Nato had hoped to delay their return while the dangers of landmines and booby traps left by retreating Serb forces were assessed.

But the refugees are desperate to go home and their resolve is being hardened by reports that property is being looted by Serbs.

It has also been suggested some Albanians are crossing the border on looting missions.

The BBC's Jeremy Bowen: Despite the dangers, the refugees just want to go home
With around 17,000 refugees returning every day from Albania - no one knows the exact figure since officials have given up on counting - the camp at Kukes, which shelters about 80,000 refugees, could be empty in a week.

At times 1,000 people an hour - carrying all the food and water they can - have been crossing the border.

[ image:  ]
Some Serb civilians heading out of the province have been using stolen cars and tractors to make their escape from the province.

A tractor being driven into Montenegro by a Serb was spotted by refugee Afrim Ferizaj who had had to abandon it when he fled Kosovo in the snow.

He reported it to the police and after some official mediation he got it back at a cost of $265, which is what the police calculated he should pay the Serb for alternative transportation and a trailer attached to the vehicle.

As many as 25 stolen vehicles are reported to have been pulled out of Serb convoys, and Rozaje market is said to be booming with stolen goods.

KLA helps peacekeepers

Rageh Omaar in Racak: Mines and boobytraps are already claiming lives
So many refugees are returning home that Nato forces, Albanian policemen and even the Kosovo Liberation Army have been struggling to cope at the border.

KLA members - unarmed and in civilian clothes - helped the peacekeepers at the Morina crossing by spotting Albanians among the refugees and turning them back. The German troops said they were happy to have the rebels there.

[ image: Ethnic Albanians have been carrying all that they can home]
Ethnic Albanians have been carrying all that they can home
"They can recognise who's from Kosovo and who's from Albania. We can't," said Lieutenant Patrick Weigang.

The Germans were letting refugees bring back weapons if they could either show a KLA membership card or if they were recognised.

"Since there is no agreement yet [on demilitarising the KLA], we let them go through with their guns," said Lieutenant Weigang.

Mine dangers

At Kukes, UN officials are distributing leaflets and posters warning of the danger of mines and other explosives.

At least two people have died and several other refugees returning home have been hurt in mine blasts.

Nato says there are thousands of mines scattered across Kosovo.

Yugoslav forces laid extensive minefields along the borders during the conflict and others were laid by KLA fighters trying to ambush Serb patrols.

Refugees also face dangers from unexploded Nato bombs and possible booby traps laid by retreating Serb forces.

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