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Saturday, June 19, 1999 Published at 02:27 GMT 03:27 UK

World: Europe

Cold comfort for Serb refugees

They have made it to Nis, 200km south of Belgrade

By the BBC's Brian Hanrahan in Belgrade

Kosovo: Special Report
The Serbian media is only now starting to acknowledge that Serbs are leaving Kosovo. But not a single picture of them has yet been shown on any Serbian television station.

The state media is not saying anything that would indicate the scale of what is happening, even though most people know there is an exodus.

The BBC's John Simpson: "In Mr Milosevic's terms the refugees do not exist."
But there is little evidence on the roads, just a few heavily-laden cars with number plates showing where they come from: for example, PE, from Pec in Kosovo.

Or an occasional tractor by the roadside which has escaped the authorities' efforts to contain all the refugees to a belt of towns south of Belgrade.

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

Watch Brian Hanrahan's report
But the local International Red Cross representative has visited the region, and says it is a substantial humanitarian crisis.

He is making arrangements to help tens of thousands of refugees who have been on the road for days, trying to escape Kosovo through narrow mountain roads.

[ image: Tired and exhausted after the journey from Kosovo]
Tired and exhausted after the journey from Kosovo
"These people are traumatised," the representative said. "They have been present in Kosovo during the conflict, which obviously adds to that effect of traumatisation, but also they have little food with them, and what possessions they have, they have to try and apply in some way to a new lifestyle."

It is easy enough to see why the authorities do not want them in Belgrade.

People need jobs and money. The war is lost, and the refugees could easily focus the current mood of confused discontent.

"I think there should be elections," one woman in the street told us. " I think people are really fed up with the situation right now."

And a man expressed his discontent. "We are fed up with the bombs, with the fighting, with the quarrels, with everything," he said.

Another made his criticism personal but seemed lost for a solution. "I do not like Milosevic, and I do not agree with him, but I agree with these people," he said.

Opposition politicians scent an opportunity. They are demanding early elections and are trying to put their divisions aside and unite on a single policy of getting rid of President Milosevic.

[ image: Vuk Obradovic:
Vuk Obradovic: "Patriotism does not feed the children"
Vuk Obradovic is the leader of the Social Democracy party. "People are being hit harder and harder," he told me. "A great number of citizens are facing extraordinary problems."

"Milosevic's patriotism will not give a child breakfast," he said. "With his kind of patriotism we cannot pay the rent or bills."

President Milosevic's domestic opponents trust him no more than his international ones.

They say he cannot be trusted to organise fair elections, and they want international monitors brought in to ensure any voting is fair.

[ image:  ]

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