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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Group Plans Food Drops For Refugees

ROME -- Pilots for an international aid group dropped leaflets over Kosovo on Wednesday promising hungry refugees that food was on the way, gearing up for the first aid drops into the province.

Two Soviet-made Antonov-26 aircraft cargo planes flying for the International Rescue Committee are due to start dropping meal packets Thursday, flying without Yugoslav permission or NATO protection.

The pilots reported seeing anti-aircraft fire below them on Wednesday's runs, said Mark Bartolini, a spokesman at the mission's base at Pescara on Italy's Adriatic coast.

The New York-based aid group will drop 4,000 bright-yellow meal packets a day initially, containing everything from peanut butter to lentil stew. It hopes to build up to 8,000 dropped meals daily.

Hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanians have fled Kosovo since NATO started bombing and Yugoslav forces escalated their ground attacks in late March. The United Nations estimates 600,000 are still living in the Yugoslav province, with little or no food.

"We know from talking to refugees who fled to Albania and Macedonia that there are about 50,000 people living in the mountains and forested areas who have no way to get food," Bartolini said.

The U.S. Agency for International Development is helping pay for the $1 million-a-month mission.

The aid group has told Belgrade and NATO of its flight routes and schedules.

U.S. Defense Department spokesman Major General Charles Wald said NATO will not patrol the air corridor the humanitarian group uses, meaning the private planes will be defenseless if the Serbs fire on them.