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Crisis in Yugoslavia

Refugees at Camp Feel Like Prisoners

Macedonia: Ethnic Albanians in remote facility haven't benefited from inflow of aid. They may be transferred soon.

April 12, 1999|ELIZABETH SHOGREN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

RADUSHA, Macedonia — In this isolated village near the border with Yugoslavia, 1,300 Kosovo Albanian refugees on Sunday remained fenced in a place that looked more like a concentration camp than a refugee camp.

Police armed with machine guns stood at the gate, preventing all but a few of the refugees from leaving--and then only briefly. The spring rains, which come most days, sent water gushing down the surrounding mountains, flooding the tents and keeping the ground muddy. Food rations were skimpy, and water was scarce.

"We are treated like prisoners here," said Arsim Zeka, 29, an informal leader of the refugees here. "We escaped from the Serbian soldiers only to find the same treatment" in Macedonia.

"Now everybody is thinking only about how to escape from here," added Zeka, who owned a small television and stereo store in Pristina, the capital of Kosovo.

The refugees here are in the smallest and most remote camp in the country--and the only one built by the Macedonian government.

Although the living conditions at the other camps in Macedonia have improved steadily over the past several days, with food, medicine and volunteers pouring in from around the globe, refugees at Radusha were still in misery Sunday despite a slight easing of their suffering.

Until Saturday, Macedonian authorities had not allowed international relief workers--except a few doctors--access to the camp, said Paula Ghedini, spokeswoman for the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.

U.N. Refugee Agency Takes Charge

Macedonian officials had been resistant to the idea of international organizations taking charge of the relief efforts in the country, but they have changed their tune. The government agreed to give the U.N. refugee agency, which is coordinating the efforts of dozens of international relief groups in Macedonia, a leading role at all the camps in everything from registering refugees to deciding who will leave on evacuation flights to other countries.

Now, Ghedini said she believes that international relief agencies will be permitted over the next several days to transfer the Radusha refugees to another camp.

Already, the conditions at the camp have improved slightly in the past few days. Some fruit and cold rations have started arriving in the past two days. But most of the refugees here had gone for 10 days to two weeks without a hot meal. Also in the past two days, guards have allowed a few refugees a day to leave the camp to walk to the village shop nearby for needed items.

Laura Bowman, a doctor with the International Medical Corps who has been volunteering in the camp for a few days, said the most basic needs were more water and better sanitary conditions. Six pit latrines serviced all 1,300 people.

"The biggest problem is that it is very cold at night," said Emina Krasnice, a young mother from Pristina who was in the camp Sunday with her newborn son and four young daughters.

Lacking the assistance of international relief workers, the most resourceful refugees have tried to create some order, setting up a numbering system for the tents, registering all the refugees in the camp and preparing lists of the camp's most urgent needs.

As in the other camps in Macedonia, many of the refugees in Radusha were separated from their families, either while they were being driven out of their homes in Kosovo--a southern province of Serbia, the dominant Yugoslav republic--or at the Macedonian border. As of Sunday, they had received no help in trying to locate family members even in other camps in Macedonia.

The Save the Children charity, which is setting up an operation in Macedonia, believes that several hundred children have been separated from their parents there, according to representative Leigh Daynes.

An effort to locate the lost children and circulate their names around other camps has not brought much success. The process is complicated because there are an estimated 45,000 people housed in the six refugee camps in Macedonia, and registration of the refugees is proceeding slowly. Communication among the camps is almost nonexistent.

Sabri Syla, 30, was determined Sunday to find a way to get his mother and father, both of whom are paralyzed, out of the Radusha camp. He and his brother brought them across the border in wheelbarrows. For days, they have been staying at Radusha without adequate heat or medical care.

"For me, it is no problem. I could stay a year," Syla said, "but I need to get them out of here and to a hospital."

Like most of the other people in camps in Macedonia, Syla and his family were evicted from their home by Serbian forces wearing masks.

"My 5-year-old son said, 'Somebody came who looks like a Ninja Turtle,' " Syla recalled, adding that he quickly shushed his son.

'This Really Pulls Your Heartstrings'

Life may soon look a little brighter for these refugees, who have experienced the traumas of being forced from their homes, expelled from their country and compelled to remain in dire conditions in the Radusha camp.

"Now we have the full cooperation of the government, it will be a lot easier to assist these people," Ghedini said.

William Walker, who headed an international monitoring mission in Kosovo over the past six months, visited the Radusha camp Sunday and was disturbed by what he saw.

"This really pulls your heartstrings," said Walker, whose observers pulled out of Kosovo three weeks ago after exposing massacres and other atrocities committed by Serbian forces under the direction of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.

*

Many charities are accepting contributions to help refugees from Kosovo. The list may be found at http://www.latimes.com/kosovoaid.

On the Web

Extended coverage of the crisis in Yugoslavia is available at The Times' Web site at http://www.latimes.com/yugo. Coverage includes hourly updates, all Times stories since NATO launched its attack, video clips, information on how to help the refugees, a primer on the conflict and access to our discussion group.

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