Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

A Harrowing Journey Terrorized Refugees Make Way to Safety

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

A Harrowing Journey Terrorized Refugees Make Way to Safety

Article excerpt

BRAZDA, Macedonia -- Scaling mountain crossings, scores of frightened ethnic Albanians made it out of Kosovo yesterday, some saying Serb police forced them from their homes on pain of death and terrorized them throughout their harrowing journey.

Of his family of 24, refugee Idriz Sejeva said, only five reached safety at Macedonia's border. En route, the Kosovo Albanians said they saw burned villages, bodies and trapped refugees.

With little international presence left in Kosovo, their stories could not be independently verified. But the accounts of the 80 new arrivals echoed those of other refugees in recent days, who say Serbs are emptying out ethnic Albanian communities inside Kosovo.

The accounts contradict Tuesday's claim by Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic that he had ordered a cease-fire in the province. Serb authorities had also said ethnic Albanians were free to return home.

Crossing points out of Kosovo are intermittently open. Late Friday, Serb authorities abruptly flicked on the lights of a border crossing at Morini, Albania, and expelled 1,459 residents of the Kosovo village of Vragolica.

The refugees said their caravan of tractors and cars had been forced out under police escort.

The expulsion Friday also was the first time refugees entered Albania en masse since the Yugoslavs closed the border four days ago, after driving more than 500,000 ethnic Albanians out of Kosovo over the past two weeks. Before the latest Yugoslav campaign, Kosovo was home to 2 million people, 90 percent of whom were ethnic Albanian.

The Vragolica refugees said the roads to the border had been all but empty of people and lined with burned villages, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said in Geneva.

At Djakovica, locals warned them not to continue, saying "others had been taken from the border into the mountains," the refugees said.

Sejeva said police came to his village near the western town of Urosevac eight days ago and told ethnic Albanians to leave or be killed.

Robbed of money and jewelry, his group made the trek to the border on train and by foot, at times walking railroad tracks to avoid mines.

In the mountains, he said, police surrounded the refugees. Escaping, they scattered.

Sejeva, his hands shaking, said he had seen bodies strewn about at a train station near Urosevac.

"Everything is blocked, and everyone is dead there. We barely got out of there," another man in the group told Associated Press Television News.

Others said they fled because they had no place left to stay in burned villages. Refugee Mechide Tasholi said he and his pregnant wife left their home in Urosevac because it was near a military building, and they feared NATO bombs.

Macedonian authorities took the new refugees to Brazda, a refugee center near Skopje. …

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