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Crisis in Yugoslavia

Relief Agencies Scramble to Aid Tide of Refugees

Misery: Officials predict that about 500,000 people could eventually be forced to flee Kosovo.

April 01, 1999|JOHN J. GOLDMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

UNITED NATIONS — Bitter cold, bad roads, masked gunmen, land mines, lack of information, massive psychic trauma--these were just some of the problems a growing army of refugees and relief workers faced Wednesday as the flight of people from war-torn Kosovo continued unabated.

Some humanitarian aid agencies predicted that the tide of misery could eventually include 500,000 people, amid fresh reports that ethnic Albanians were being driven from the Yugoslav province.

U.N. officials said more than 130,000 people so far have fled from Kosovo to surrounding countries and territories since NATO airstrikes began against Yugoslavia a week ago.

"Refugees are coming with nothing with them but the stories they are telling," said Linda Keyes, director of public information for Lutheran World Relief in New York.

Scores of nations and relief organizations--sometimes with skimpy information--scrambled to mount a sufficient humanitarian response.

"For the moment, we have no real assessment precisely. We are not on the spot in Kosovo. We had to leave," said Sylvie Junod, head of the International Committee of the Red Cross delegation at the United Nations, where the organization has observer status.

"We had three warehouses in Kosovo, and convoys working out of each warehouse," said Laura Guimond, senior program officer at Mercy Corps International. "Two of the warehouses have been burned down. Our Kosovo operations have been suspended. Much of our staff have now been pulled out."

United Nations officials said several thousand people reached the safety of Macedonia on Wednesday. Many had spent several nights in the mountains of Kosovo in freezing temperatures to avoid Yugoslav military patrols. Several women gave birth en route. Some refugees arrived barefoot.

Relief workers with the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said some of those arriving showed passports and other documents that had been ripped up by Serbian authorities.

The U.N. refugee officials said that at one point early Wednesday, cars were being processed at the rate of only one an hour at a border crossing into Macedonia, but that conditions improved later.

Tuesday night, masked men in uniform moved from car to car on the Kosovo side of the border, robbing passengers of valuables. U.N. personnel said it was unclear whether they were Serbs or members of the Kosovo Liberation Army, rebels who are seeking independence from Yugoslavia for the province.

Refugees arriving in neighboring Albania reported that they had encountered land mines en route and had suffered casualties, U.N. officials said.

"At least one baby reportedly was killed," one official said. "Several men arrived with shrapnel gunshot wounds. But there was no further information on the background to these incidents."

With tents, wooden shelters, blankets, medical supplies, emergency food rations and packages hastily purchased at border towns, relief agencies tried to cope with the tide of refugees. As the crisis escalated, more than 50 countries and 30 international organizations planned to meet Tuesday in Geneva to coordinate their response.

Italian naval vessels began to ferry supplies to Albania, including temporary shelters for 25,000 people. Germany prepared to send food and sanitation kits to the Yugoslav republic of Montenegro and shelters to Albania. Australia, France, Turkey, Canada and Sweden assembled aid packages.

In Washington, the Clinton administration said it was authorizing an additional $50 million in aid. The money will come from an emergency contingency fund and the Department of Defense, White House Press Secretary Joe Lockhart said.

Edith Stanley in The Times' Atlanta Bureau and Lisa Meyer in New York contributed to this story.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

How to Help

These charities are accepting contributions to help refugees from Kosovo. A fuller list may be found at http://www.

latimes.com/kosovoaid.

American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee

711 3rd Ave., 10th Floor

New York, NY 10017

(212) 885-0832; (212) 885-0889

www.jdc.org.

American Red Cross

International Response Fund

P.O. Box 37243

Washington, DC 20013

(800) HELP-NOW

Spanish: (800) 257-7575

www.redcross.org.

CARE

151 Ellis St. NE

Atlanta, GA 30303-2426

(800) 521-2273

www.care.org.

Catholic Relief Services

P.O. Box 17090

Baltimore, MD 21203-7090

(800) 736-3467

www.catholicrelief.org.

Doctors Without Borders

6 E. 39th St., 8th Floor

New York, NY 10016

(888) 392-0392

www.dwb.org.

Oxfam America

Kosovo Relief Fund

26 West St.

Boston, MA 02111

(800) 77-OXFAM

Save the Children Federation

P.O. Box 975; 54 Wilton Road

Westport, CT 06880

(800) 243-5075

www.savethechildren.org.

World Vision

P.O. Box 9716

Federal Way, WA 98063

(888) 511-6565

www.worldvision.org.

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