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News Archive 1999


APRIL 26, 1999

Refugees now arriving in Macedonia report that Yugoslav military forces chased them from village to village in Kosovo during the preceding three to four weeks. Refugees explained they were sometimes directed by Yugoslav troops toward a particular town, only to later be forced to flee that town. However, when they tried to flee Kosovo altogether, Yugoslav forces prevented them from leaving. It was not immediately clear why the Yugoslav forces would have kept refugees trapped in the region. Those who had been on the move for weeks, were exhausted, in shock and traumatized when they finally arrived in Macedonia

Refugees from the Urosevac (Ferizay in Albanian) and Gnjilane areas of southern Kosovo told Human Rights Watch strikingly similar stories of their ordeal: weeks spent fleeing or being forced to move from one village to another. Many refugees from Urosevac, for example, fled their homes soon after the NATO air strikes began on March 24, seeking shelter in the nearby village of Sojevo. They were later forced to flee Sojevo as well when Yugoslav army troops entered the village on April 6, joined by paramilitary soldiers on April 7, and began burning houses and firing weapons.

Most of the villagers escaped into the mountains, but the very elderly and disabled were left behind. One man told Human Rights Watch that when he fled with his wife and children he had been forced to leave his paralyzed father and elderly mother behind in their home. He had believed they would be safe because "[paramilitaries] wouldn't touch a paralyzed man." However, when he returned several hours later, he found both his mother and father shot dead in their home, his mother's body had been mutilated, and that there were dozens of empty bullet casings on the ground. At least two other elderly people were also killed in Sojevo, according to three of the villagers interviewed by Human Rights Watch who buried them.

Terrified by what they had experienced, the villagers tried to flee to Macedonia. Some were stopped outside Urosevac by the Serb special police and Yugoslav military and prevented for several days from taking the road to the Macedonian border. Others, traveling by train, were turned back on several occasions from the border town of Djeneral Jankovic. Some refugees took different routes. But these, and other refugees, all tell the same story: they were repeatedly stopped by police, military or the paramilitaries, turned back in the direction they had come from, told to stay in different villages, then later forced to move again. Some refugees appear to have been deliberately directed towards specific towns, where a few days later soldiers and paramilitaries arrived and forced them to move on again. Many refugees described persistent extortion of large sums of money by soldiers along the route. For many, this pattern continued for weeks on end.

One woman who had just arrived in Macedonia told Human Rights Watch, "I traveled a lot, I was just escaping from one place to another. Everywhere we went they were following us. I have not slept in the same place for one month. This is our first night in peace for these four weeks. I would rather sleep here on this ground, than be there - just for some peace."

Source: Human Rights Watch

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