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Friday, June 18, 1999 Published at 03:28 GMT 04:28 UK

World: Europe

Serb exodus unabated

Serbs leaving Kosovo - a blow to President Milosevic's credibility

Kosovo: Special Report
Aid agencies estimate that about 40,000 Serbs have fled Kosovo, fearing reprisals from ethnic Albanian rebels and returning refugees.

Most are heading north to Serbia, while hundreds have fled west into Montenegro, ignoring repeated efforts to persuade them to stay in the province.

Momcilo Trajkovic, chairman of the Serbian Resistance Movement in Kosovo, told a news conference the figure was more than 50,000 and that state institutions were not doing enough to help his community.

Kate Adie reports on the fear which is driving Serbs out of Kosovo
"Many Kosovo officials are no longer in Kosovo now, when they are most needed by the Serbian people," he said.

(Click here to see a map showing major Serb population centres in Kosovo)

Many Kosovo Serbs have reached provincial towns in Serbia and are being prevented from travelling on to Belgrade.

[ image:  ]
The only references to the refugees in the state-controlled Yugoslav media are frequent exhortations for Kosovo Serbs to remain where they are.

A BBC correspondent in Belgrade says the exodus from Kosovo is seen as a severe blow to President Milosevic, whose policy was always to defend the Serbs' place in Kosovo.

Orthodox moves

A prominent member of the Serbian orthodox church, Bishop Artemije, from Prizren, travelled to Pristina under K-For escort with a number of priests and 200 followers.

He said German K-For troops there were not at present able to provide adequate security.

Jane Little reports on the Orthodox church's desperate attempts to protect "the nation's shrine"
He said monasteries, including those at Mustiste and Korisa, had been burnt down since Tuesday, and accused the KLA of targeting Kosovo's churches as revenge.

Meanwhile, Serbian Othodox Patriarch Pavle left Belgrade to stay in Pec, the traditional seat of the church in Kosovo, to try to end the Serb exodus.

BBC Religious Affairs Correspondent Jane Little says the Church is assuming a very public role to try to preserve its holy land, which houses hundreds of ancient monasteries.

Nato assurances

US State Department spokesman James Foley urged the Serb minority not to flee Kosovo.

[ image: Nato insists that K-For is there to protect Serbs as well as Albanians]
Nato insists that K-For is there to protect Serbs as well as Albanians
"Nato and K-For will provide a secure environment," he said, promising that "all the people of Kosovo will benefit from this."

Mr Foley also expressed concern about "very disturbing reports" that Kosovo Liberation Army guerrillas had ransacked monasteries and molested a 20-year-old nun.

UK Foreign Secretary Robin Cook warned the Kosovo Albanians from conducting reprisals against the Serbs: "We will not now tolerate ethnic cleansing of the Serb population in Kosovo."

US soldiers in the southeast town of Zegra are reported to have disarmed 160 fighters from the KLA.

A State Department spokesman is due to meet KLA representatives in Macedonia to discuss demilitarisation of the rebels, when the Serb military and police withdrawal is complete.

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