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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Trains Bring Daily Cargo Of Human Suffering




BLACE, Macedonia -- The morning train from Kosovo pulled up to the border and dumped its daily cargo: More than 1,000 numb or weeping Kosovo Albanians, bringing with them the latest tales of killings, beatings and burnings back home.


For Hashim Reka and the rest on board, deportation at gunpoint came with a price tag: 5 to 20 dinars (a few dollars) for a second-class ticket.


His lip swollen, his face bandaged with yellow and red-stained gauze from what he said was a Serb beating, Reka opened his hand and fanned out 36 notched tickets that had gotten his extended family out of the Serb province.


But there were six fewer tickets than there should have been.


The nightmare started in Brenica, Reka said, when Serb paramilitaries ordered his family to come out of their house and then opened fire when they did. The fusillade killed two brothers, a sister-in-law, two cousins, and another relative, he said.


More so than previous groups of refugees, the new arrivals said Serbs were not just beating and threatening them, but killing them.


Serb authorities have been sending trains full of refugees to Macedonia's border almost every day, after a lull for Orthodox Easter.


Some said they were forced to the train stations; others welcomed a way out of the horror - many said they had seen their homes burned behind them, and escaped only through a rain of bullets.


Serbian officials say the refugees are leaving voluntarily to escape NATO bombs.


At the train stations, refugees said, Serb police fired into the air and pushed children through windows to pack aboard as many people as possible. Clothes litter the stations, strewn from suitcases discarded or opened in the crush, according to the passengers.


A second class ticket on Kosovo's refugee express means standing room only. "Like this,'' one man said, pressing palm against palm.


Fourteen-year-old Ardita Gjigolli, from the Kosovo capital, Pristina, lost her mother in the crush. It took 30 minutes before word reached her that her mother had gotten safely aboard another car. After that, it was another two hours to the border.


"I cried all the way,'' Ardita said.


Reka's odyssey continued Sunday at the Blace border camp, where he stood with hundreds of other refugees in the mud waiting to get more pieces of paper, ones that would get the family sheltered and fed.Hundreds of other refugees, newly disembarked, stood on the other side of the border checkpoint, waiting to be admitted to Macedonia. Behind them, well in sight, stood the red-roofed, white houses of Kosovo.


"Never,'' Reka said, keeping his sentences short because it hurt to talk. "Never thought I would get out alive.''


The International Committee of the Red Cross is working on securing the release of a German television journalist held in Yugoslavia on charges of spying, Germany's Foreign Ministry said Monday.


Red Cross head Cornelio Sommaruga raised the case of Hans-Peter Schnitzler, a correspondent for the SAT-1 network, during his meetings in Belgrade on Monday, a ministry spokesman said. No further details were given.