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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

UN Begins Organized Repatriation Of Refugees




PRISTINA, Yugoslavia -- After two weeks of displaced ethnic Albanians flooding home on their own, the first UN-organized bus convoy transported refugees Monday to Kosovo.


Seven buses with 335 refugees, escorted by representatives of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, left the Stenkovec 1 camp in Macedonia shortly after 8 a.m. Dozens of others were picked up at Stenkovec 2 for the trip to Pristina, the Kosovo capital.


After less than three hours, the buses arrived in Pristina, where each of the refugees received a UNHCR daily ration. "I am very happy we came back to free Kosovo," said Luljeta Sherifi, 20, upon arrival.


Hundreds of thousands of refugees have ignored pleas to delay their returns until land mines can be cleared and the province made safe. More than 415,000 have streamed home since Serb troops began leaving Kosovo and NATO peacekeepers started deploying two weeks ago under a peace plan, UNHCR officials said Monday.


A total of 860,000 are believed to have fled Kosovo in a Serb crackdown during NATO's bombing campaign.


The refugees leaving Monday were carefully selected to ensure they wouldn't have any special problems on return. All had a house or relatives in Pristina with whom they could stay.


The swift and uncontrolled return of refugees has complicated NATO's efforts to keep the peace. Many ethnic Albanians brutally forced from their homes by Serb soldiers before and during a 78-day NATO bombing campaign are taking revenge as they return to find homes destroyed and relatives slain.


In an interview with BBC radio in London, NATO's supreme commander in Europe, General Wesley Clark, said Monday that the commanders of the Kosovo Liberation Army are cooperating well with demilitarization, but the "issue is how the individual members do."


"There is terrible anger here, terrible things have been done to Kosovo Albanians," he explained.


Under an agreement signed by NATO and the KLA on June 21, the rebels were to have established secure weapons storage sites and have vacated fighting positions by midnight Monday.


"Today [Monday] is the key day f by midnight tonight we expect to have the KLA into those designated assembly areas," Clark said.


Amid the persisting violence and ethnic tensions in the battle-scarred province, the peaceful return of some 800 ethnic Albanians to their work as former employees of Pristina radio and television stood out as an exception and a model for settling future disputes.


Calmly and without violence, they entered the station building Monday after a deal was struck to have them return to their old jobs, which they were either forced to leave or abandoned in protest of Serb repression in 1990.


At noon, the radio began broadcasting in Albanian, with an interview with the spokesman for the KLA press service.


Around that time, NATO peacekeepers cordoned off the block surrounding the radio station after a group of young men shouted that there was a bomb in a car and ran away, witnesses said.


Ethnic Albanian former employees of Kosovo's power company also began returning to the company's executive building in Pristina Monday.