Kosovars witness massacres by Serb forces

In a poll of nearly 500 ethnic Albanians who fled Kosovo, 1 out of 3 say they saw executions by Serbian forces.

These numbers substantiate the individual tales of massacres that have poured out of the province along with the more than 850,000 refugees.

The poll represents an attempt to quantify the individual tales of beatings and evictions experienced by the ethnic Albanians. And the findings buttress claims of a Yugoslav campaign to empty the province of its ethnic Albanian majority.

One in 4 refugees say they saw evidence of mass graves before they fled Kosovo. And 57 percent say they had a friend or family member killed during the recent conflict.

The US State Department and NATO have unveiled photographs believed to show mass graves in Kosovo.

"If NATO hadn't taken steps, all my people would have died," says Kushtrime Mushmurati, a dark-haired university student who says her family was kicked out of its home one March morning as they were eating breakfast. She and five relatives are among the roughly 3,500 refugees being sheltered in the brick dormitories at Fort Dix, N.J.

The poll of 459 refugees was commissioned by The Christian Science Monitor and conducted by Technometrica Institute of Policy and Politics (TIPP), based in Oradell, N.J.

In it, refugees describe hardships ranging from threats to physical assault. One in 3 say they were beaten. At Fort Dix, as rain falls outside on the children's play area, survey respondent Rexhep Ahmeti describes how, when Serbian police invaded his home March 28, he stepped outside so they wouldn't beat him in front of his family. Afterward, the police dragged him inside and hit him some more says Mr. Ahmeti, a wiry man in a maroon sport coat.

The most common hardship the refugees describe, one especially difficult in a culture where as many as 30 family members live together, is separation from their loved ones. Eight in 10 of the refugees polled say they have been separated from family.

Bedrie, a woman with close-cropped hair and green eyes who asked that her last name not be used, says she hasn't heard from her husband since Serbian police took him away three months ago. Despite this, and, she says, that her father was killed by Serbian forces seven months earlier, Bedrie considers herself fortunate.

"I'm lucky," she says, wiping tears from her eyes. "I have my three children with me here."

Her teenage daughter almost didn't make it. On the bus ride out of Kosovo, Serbian soldiers separated the girl from her mother and were taking her away. Bedrie says it took 2,000 deutsche marks - all the money she had with her - to get her daughter back.

In the Monitor/TIPP poll, the refugees also speak of going without food or shelter. Nearly 4 in 10 surveyed say they've gone hungry, and another 46 percent say they slept on the unprotected ground.

Xheme Morina and his family are among those. Serbian forces came to their village of Kline a year ago, and he says his family has been on the run ever since. "I've lost count of how many times we've had to move from village to village," says Mr. Morina, who carried his mother as they fled.

When they reached the Macedonian border town of Blace in March, he says, he and his family went a week without food - 12 of them taking shelter under the same plastic covering.

Such experiences have left the refugees with one overwhelming conclusion: Nearly 9 out of 10 of respondents say they believe there was a systematic, deliberate attempt by the Yugoslav government to kill or remove Kosovar Albanians - one that began before the NATO bombing.

"This tragedy didn't start [in March]," says Ms. Mushmurati in her quiet English. "It began 20 years ago, with the big hatred between Serbs and Albanians. They shut down our schools, our shops, everything.

"It was hard to find a happy way to live in my country," she says, and then smiles. "One day, it will be better."

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