Serbia + 1 more

Refugees beg for help as shelling echoes in Kosovo

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Posted
Originally published
By Deborah Charles

NEAR KACANIK, Serbia, March 2(Reuters) - Several hundred ethnic Albanians, who have camped out in the woods for two nights since fleeing fighting in their Kosovo village, begged for help on Tuesday as shelling echoed from nearby hills.

The refugees, mostly women and children, said they might not be able to survive another night out in the cold.

"Everybody's forgotten about us," said Valide Shahini, whose 60-member extended family was camped out under plastic sheets on the side of a muddy hill. The sound of mortars and shelling could be heard coming from an area close to the border separating this war-torn Serbian province from Macedonia. The villagers said it had been going on since early morning.

At the main General Jankovic border crossing, Yugoslav armoured vehicles were lined up along the road and refugees from recent fighting in the area were sheltering in nearby houses, afraid to try to cross because they did not have documents.

The Serbian-run Pristina Media Centre said ethnic Albanian guerrillas had attacked Yugoslav army units at the border in the early hours.

"The clashes lasted for more than two hours and the terrorists were crushed," it said.

It also quoted the headquarters of the Yugoslav army's Pristina Corps as saying the guerrillas were trying to create a corridor to bring in reinforcements from Macedonia as well as to fabricate a refugee crisis.

On the hillside, babies cried, children coughed and old women sobbed as they told of Sunday's escape from Granjevillage.

"The Serbs were one kilometre behind us. We were running and the bullets were behind our backs," said Zatije Spahije, as she wiped tears from her face.

Spahije said she was worried about her daughter-in-law, one of two pregnant women who had been evacuated from the hillside by international ceasefire monitors on Monday.

The refugees said they had no information on what had happened to the women and the two new-born babies taken out by international monitors on Monday.

One man begged a Reuters news team to escort people out.

"We want an organised way to take us away from here with an escort so that they can get us out safely," he said. Another woman appealed: "Please take us away with you in your car."

About half an hour later a convoy of international aid trucks drove up towards the area where the ethnic Albanians were camped out.

Fernando del Mundo, spokesman for the UNHCR in Pristina, was in one of the trucks. He said the aid workers were bringing blankets, food and other supplies to the refugees.

But it was unclear how the heavy trucks would make it through the small muddy forest path up to the camp.

Copyright (c) 1999 Reuter

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