Cleansing Kosovo

Serb forces are expelling Albanians from a horseshoe-shaped territory, from Pec to Prizren to Pristina-burning houses and destroying identity papers. They are not welcome back.

Cleansing Kosovo

Serb forces are expelling Albanians from a horseshoe-shaped territory, from Pec to Prizren to Pristina-burning houses and destroying identity papers. They are not welcome back.

Kosovo Albanian refugees continue to flow into the small northern Albanian town of Kukes. In the past three days over 82,000 refugees have crossed into Albanian territory.

They tell similar stories. Serb forces have entered their homes and told them to pack-up and leave Kosovo. Their personal identity papers, passports, and for those driving by car, license plates, and all other ID papers were confiscated and burned.

"They took our documents and told us never to return," said Muma a 64 year old man from Prizren. He was sitting on a farm wagon tied to a tractor with his extended family, including his two sons, their wives and his four grandchildren, aged between 4 and 10.

"Once we got on the asphalt," Muma added, "the Serbs burned down our houses. We left Prizren in flames."

The refugees come from the northwest Kosovo cities of Pec and Gjakovica, the southwest city of Prizren and every small farm village in between. Zakarai Kiwa, senior legal counsel to the UN High Commissioner for Refguees (UNHCR), noted, "This northwest region of Kosovo has a population of approximately 250,000. It's obvious what the Serbs are doing"--emptying it.

The refugees speak about Serbian forces dressed in black with black masks coming into their cities, towns and villages to expel them. Some of the refugees from the far northwest region were brought to Prizren by the authorities by bus. From Prizren, they walked the 18 kilometers to the Kukes border.

Agim Lluki, owner of the Peca based Dukagjini publishing house, spoke of the burning of Pec and his publishing company. But he seemed more concerned about the fate of his Pristina friends, especially writers he published in elegant editions only a few months ago.

"Do you know anything about Eqrem or Rexhep and Skener?" he asked, enquiring after several poets and writers. Then he paused and burst into tears. "You know that they killed Baton Haxhiu?" the editor of Koha Ditore.

According to the refugees, every Albanian city, village and town in the northwest of Kosovo has been burned down. Belgrade appears to have a well-planned strategy for "cleansing" the Albanians in Kosovo.

Concentrating on the bordering cities and towns, Belgrade has followed a horseshoe pattern for clearing Albanians from Kosovo. Beginning with the northwestern city of Pec down to the southwestern city of Prizren and up to Pristina, in the northeast, they are forcing out the Kosovo Albanians to either neighbouring Albania or Macedonia.

The refugees from the west of the Kosovo cities and towns are being forced to Kukes and, 20 kilometres north, the village of Has. People from Pristina and the south are being forced to Macedonia. In the capital Pristina, the base for the Albanian political leaders and activists, Serb forces continue to hunt them down, according to the UNHCR's. Kiwa.

Fighting between the KLA and the Serb forces appears to have escalated in the past three days. In the northwest region of Decan, bordering Albania, the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) reported heavy fighting. One KLA fighter who just returned from the front claimed, "Last night we fought for four hours. Our casualties were low compared to the damage we inflicted on the Serbs." But he provided no casualty figures.

With this fighting, the flow of refugees has not slowed. "There are 3,000 refugees just across the border., says Kiwa. "We are expecting more in the few days." Rumour has it that 100,000 refugees from Pristina are on their way to the Kukes border.

>From the refugees' tales, most of the major Albanian populated cities and towns in Kosovo have been vacated and burned to the ground. "If NATO wants to bomb the Serbian army in Kosovo, tell them to go ahead. Because the women and children of Kosovo have left," noted Muma.

Fron Nazi is an IWPR senior editor.

Macedonia, Albania, Kosovo
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