Inside Kosovo's mass exodus
Though forced removal of ethnic Albanians continues, signs of Serbs
BELGRADE, YUGOSLAVIA — In Kosovo's capital of Pristina, ethnic Albanians are fleeing, and entire blocks of apartment buildings are empty, witnesses say.
It is unclear to what extent they are being forced out by the Serbs. But recent visitors to Pristina say some of the Albanians are leaving of their own will, in what one person called "a chain reaction." Others are being forced out.
At the train station on Saturday, two engines with 10 wagons each were filling up with soon-to-be refugees. Thousands of Albanians were camped out near the train station waiting to board.
"First the Serbs came and threw me out of my house," says a father of eight who was waiting at the station. "But I went back anyway. Then my kids started panicking, and I couldn't bear it any more. I had to leave."
Despite the war in the countryside between the Serbian forces and the ethnic Albanians' Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), some signs of cooperation between the two groups were evident in Pristina. Some Serbian police have been helping ethnic Albanians escape, and neighbors in certain "mixed" buildings are looking out for each other. One ethnic Albanian said a Serb advised him as to the safest place to hide.
The phone lines of ethnic Albanian families have been cut, but those of the local Serbs are still working. Albanians have "split" some of the Serbian lines, making it possible to call the outside world.
According to a Serbian government source in Belgrade, the KLA has retreated to the country in western Kosovo, and though they still hold some ground, "they can be wiped out in a matter of days."
The KLA is asking for all young ethnic Albanian men to join. But the KLA has become overwhelmed by thousands of refugees who have fled to the KLA's remaining strongholds - near the Albanian border - seeking food, medicine, and security, which the KLA cannot apparently provide now.