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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Refugees Tell of Purge by Serbs, Possible Massacre




MORINI, Albania -- More than 2,000 ethnic Albanian refugees fled to Albania early Wednesday, telling of a new Serb campaign to clear villages in southwest Kosovo and alluding to a possible massacre in a community near Djakovica.


Elsewhere, the United Nations refugee agency warned that camps packed beyond capacity in Macedonia were "on the verge of rioting."


The refugees, some on wagons hauled by tractors and others on foot, were almost all women, children and elderly men. Most said Serb police had ordered them out of their villages on Tuesday, starting a journey of more than 20 kilometers to the border.


Several of the refugees also said Serb forces had ordered young and middle-aged men off tractors at gunpoint in Meje, a village just outside Djakovica.


People who passed through the village a few hours later told of dozens of male bodies lying in the streets.


The information could not immediately be verified, but the similarity of the stories told by people from various villages in Kosovo's western Djakovica region indicated another Serb campaign to clear a large area of ethnic Albanians.


Zhen Berisha said Serbian forces Tuesday morning ordered everyone to get out of his village of Madanaj. It was the second time he fled - having left April 14, when Serbian police ordered everyone out, only to return later when other Serbian forces turned them back.


This time, he said, "they came to our houses and said 'now is the day you have to leave.'''


As tractor-drawn wagons rolled through Meje, refugees said, Serb forces stopped them on the far side of the village and ordered the young men to climb down from the tractors.


Those who traveled through Meje between 4 and 5 p.m. Tuesday told of seeing bodies in the street. One refugee, Lule Ndue, claimed she saw scores of dead bodies, some lying on top of each other. Another, Zoj Cupi, said she saw more than 100 corpses, all of them men.


Kris Janowski, spokesman for the UN refugee agency UNHCR, said Wednesday in Geneva that refugees had told aid workers that men were systematically taken off departing tractors.


"The stories ... seem to indicate that a lot more people have been killed over the past few days in the Djakovica area by paramilitary troops than in any other single case of attack before,'' he said.


Refugees who arrived on foot were transported by truck to camps in Kukes, the regional center near the border, while those in cars and tractor-drawn wagons made their own way.


Both Kukes city officials and the UN refugee agency have been trying to move refugees out of the area to prevent overwhelming already-meager local services and get them away from possible escalating border violence.


Albania has taken in more than 360,000 and a further 142,000 are in Macedonia. Hundreds of thousands are also said to be displaced within Kosovo.


In Macedonia, aid officials worry that further crowding could cause an outbreak of violence in the camps.


As many as 5,000 ethnic Albanians entered Macedonia on Tuesday - the highest single-day total in weeks. They were apparently part of a major exodus related to intensified Serb ethnic cleansing near Pristina, Kosovo's capital.