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Date:  Sun, 2 May 1999 17:19:50 +0900
From: Hendrik
To: Multiple recipients of NETSOURCE-L <netsource-l@mail.think.service>
Subject:  [NS] Los Angeles Times contradicting NATO reports

Contradicting NATO, Refugees Say Serbs Steering Many Toward Home

Los Angeles Times, Wednesday, April 21, 1999


Serbs Steer Many Refugees Toward Home

By PAUL WATSON, Times Staff Writer

SAJKOVAC, Yugoslavia--More than 25,000 ethnic Albanians were on the move
again in northern Kosovo on Tuesday, but this time there was a difference
to the seemingly endless columns of tired, hungry and frightened people.
They were heading home.

The Kosovo Albanians, some in tractor-drawn wagons, on horseback or
trudging along the roadside, converged southeast of Podujevo. Well over
half were men of fighting age.

Many were out of food after living in the mountains for days on a mixture
of flour and water fried in oil, several refugees interviewed Tuesday said.
A few children had died in the cold, they added.

Then Serbian police on Monday suddenly opened a corridor for an estimated
100,000 ethnic Albanians believed to be in this region of Kosovo, the
refugees said.

The northern refugees represent just a portion of the estimated 800,000
ethnic Albanians now believed to be displaced from their homes and on the
move within Kosovo, a province of Yugoslavia's dominant republic, Serbia.

The northern refugees on the move Tuesday jammed two muddy dirt tracks
leading into Sajkovac and nearby Ladovac, carrying what little they had
managed to take from their homes almost a month ago. One wagon had a small
kitchen stove roped to the back.

While dozens of the refugees lined up at a communal tap to fill plastic
soda bottles with water, others searched for a place to sleep. One group
found shelter in a half-built house.

Most of the refugees fled Podujevo and surrounding villages soon after NATO
began bombing March 24, some because they were too terrified to stay,
others because Serbian police ordered them to go.

Moving southeast from village to village, they spent some nights sleeping
out in the freezing cold and snow, huddled together in wagons, or on the
floors of schools or mosques.

When they weren't trying to escape Yugoslav forces, they were caught in the
cross-fire between Serbs and the separatist Kosovo Liberation Army, or KLA,
or bracing for NATO bombs. Now they have come almost full circle.

"We want to go home," Subhija Cutaku, 56, of Bajcina village said as she
limped north along with one group of about 5,000 refugees on the road that
links Pristina and Podujevo. "We hope it's safe. We hope it's not

Ibrahimi Ferat, 63, said he left the village of Grdovac, about eight miles
southeast of Podujevo, because of ground fighting a day after NATO's air
war began.

"There were attacks between the police and the KLA in the hills, but there
was no shelling where we were--at least not as far as I know," said Ferat.
Like many of the refugees on the road, Ferat had little more than he was

The interviews with several ethnic Albanians in columns returning to
Podujevo appeared to contradict NATO's charge Monday that Serbs were
herding them to Pristina, the capital of Kosovo province, to be loaded onto
trains and deported.

Even as Serbian police were steering thousands of Kosovo Albanians north
away from Pristina, NATO spokesman Jamie Shea said they were being forced
south toward neighboring Macedonia.

Shea told reporters that NATO had "increasing reports inside Kosovo that
the Serb forces are creating a kind of anti-humanitarian corridor from the
north down to Pristina, funneling about 150,000 internally displaced people
so that they can be put on trains and sent south" to Macedonia.

The ethnic Albanians--who spoke without police, soldiers or government
officials nearby--said that something had changed over the weekend and that
Serbian police were suddenly offering them help. So like pawns on a worn
chessboard, they were moving again.

Serbian authorities gave no official explanation for the mass movement of
refugees, first south toward Pristina and then north toward their homes in
and around Podujevo.

In mid-March, the area was a KLA bastion commanded by one of the guerrilla
organization's hard-liners, a former law student who fought under the war
name Remi. His whereabouts are unknown.

For months before the North Atlantic Treaty Organization launched its
airstrikes, the KLA and Yugoslav security forces were battling near
Podujevo. After NATO attacks began, looting, arson and bombs left much of
Podujevo empty and burned. It doesn't sound like an ideal place for a
homecoming for ethnic Albanian refugees, so this turn--like many things in
the war over Kosovo--is difficult to explain.

It may be Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's response to foreign
pressure to help refugees trapped in Kosovo without proper food or shelter.
Milosevic reportedly held secret negotiations over the weekend with foreign
envoys, discussing how to help ethnic Albanians, probably through a few
Greek relief agencies now operating in the province.

NATO has rejected airdrops of food, medicine and other supplies by the
alliance, largely because low-flying transport planes would be an easy
target for Yugoslav forces. There is also concern that the rations would be
intercepted by Yugoslav troops.

Meanwhile, here in Sajkovac, about five miles south of Podujevo, an
estimated 20,000 ethnic Albanians moving northward had arrived by
midafternoon Tuesday, and said many more were coming. While the
fighting-age men were eager to speak to a foreign reporter, they refused to
give their names out of fear of retribution by either side in Kosovo's
ground war.

A chemistry student, almost fluent in English, told of leaving the village
of Svetlje, about two miles southeast of Podujevo, with his wife and two
young children on the third day of NATO's bombing.

"Unusual things happened," he said. "It wasn't [regular] Serbian forces,
but special forces, and we waited for a confrontation with the KLA. Then
police and Serbian forces took us . . . and we ran away." The refugees
moved southeast to the village of Dumos, and then on to Duz in the
mountains, where they spent one night sleeping outside in the snow, he said.

Serbian security forces began to attack Grdovac, another mile to the
southeast, so the refugees fled again, this time finding relative peace in
Kolic for two weeks. "There were too many people who were hungry," he said.
"We had no food, just wheat flour and oil. Then Serbian forces began to
attack us from all sides." As Serbian armor moved to encircle the village,
the refugees fled to Grastica, where they slept in schools, a mosque or

By then, they had no food and continued south toward Pristina without being
attacked again by the Serbs, the man said.

At Lukare, on the northeast fringe of Pristina, Yugoslav forces on Monday
"made a corridor, a road for us to Pristina," he added.

After feeding the refugees tinned fish, the Serbs turned them north toward
a village just southeast of Podujevo, where they were ordered to stop until
receiving permission to move again.

"We have no problems now," the man said. "Something, we think, has changed.
But we don't know. But I appeal to all organizations to help us. We are all

Asked if he wanted to leave Kosovo, as hundreds of thousands of refugees
have done, the man paused and said: "It's a difficult question. Myself, I
will go where there is peace."

* * *

All of Paul Watson's dispatches from Kosovo are available on The Times' Web
site at : http://www.latimes.com/dispatch.


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