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Monday, April 26, 1999 Published at 11:09 GMT 12:09 UK

A refugee diary

Kosovar Albanian refugees arriving at Kukes

By BBC Correspondent Jeremy Bowen

[ image:  ]
Back to the border. Thousands more people are coming across. I keep losing track of how many. Is it 300,000 so far or 400,000?

Kosovo: Special Report
Numbers anyway are very approximate. Aid agencies come out with what sound like precise figures but I haven't seen anybody sitting down making a count here at the border.

The weight of human traffic is so heavy that the Albanian police hardly give the refugees enough time to pick up some water, fruit and BP5s - the high energy biscuits they give to refugees around the world.

[ image: Refugees are arriving exhausted]
Refugees are arriving exhausted
They just push them through, down the road to Kukes, which is about 20 miles away. There are so many it is hard to film them let alone count them.

[ image:  ]
Suddenly, it's all stopped. Only a couple of refugees have crossed. They report seeing a long line of abandoned tractors and cars on the way to the border.

Have the Serbs forced them back into Kosovo or are they being used as human shields? Well the truth is that nobody knows.

We can see into Kosovo and the town of Prizren is only about 15 minutes' drive on the other side of the border. But nobody can get there. Well, except people who are wearing Serb uniforms.

[ image:  ]
Still no more refugees. The lull is giving the aid agencies some time to help the tens of thousands who crossed at the weekend and everybody here has a chance to think about what's happened.

I keep trying to imagine what its like to lose everything, to have your life turned upside down in a minute.

[ image: Wednesday: reported on the children's suffering]
Wednesday: reported on the children's suffering
I find myself thinking about my house, about how I would feel if armed men battered down the door, pushed me and everybody close to me out, then set the whole house and the whole street on fire.

[ image:  ]
Spent the day in Kukes doing a report about the emotional damage to children because of what has happened to them.

Kukes is an immensely squalid town set in a spectacular landscape. Northern Albania's mountains, especially around the border with Montenegro, are stunning. It is a shame about some of the people.

Albania is the poorest country in Europe, I suspect by a very long way, but it has opened its doors wide to the Kosovo refugees.

Unfortunately, some of the mountain villages are run by bandits and the refugees try to get out of them as quickly as they can. Our own BBC team was robbed by masked men firing assault rifles, the other week. It was a very nasty few minutes.

I reckon they would have killed us, if they thought it necessary, without thinking twice.

[ image:  ]
The refugees have started crossing again. This time they are on foot instead of tractors or cars. They look exhausted covered in sweat and sunburn for being out in the open for so long.

Some people think reporters should stay aloof from what they are seeing, which is fine if you are made of stone. I have to admit I find the sight of these miserable people and the stories they tell very moving. It also makes me very angry.

Before I came to this place, I was sitting in a hotel in Montenegro, that at the time seemed shabby and now seems luxurious, talking to a colleague, who like me, had covered refugee stories for 10 years and more.

[ image: Refugees are desperate for food]
Refugees are desperate for food
We thought the refugee story would probably fade away pretty quickly, that the relief effort would stabilise the problem and that our news desks would get bored.

That just shows the dangers of listening to experienced journalists sitting around bars. In fact, the opposite has happened. The continuing forced deportations of Kosovar-Albanians have intensified the impact of it all, on me at least.

I've been watching people being burned out of their homes in the Balkans since Yugoslavia started to break up in 1991. That's eight years, for goodness sake. It's too much.

[ image:  ]
Pouring rain. Kukes has been turned into a giant bog. Abject, freezing misery in the camps.

All the refugees I've spoken to are delighted that Nato is trying to get them home but all of them think it will only happen if ground troops go in. Some think the Kosovo Liberation Army can do the job but having seen them I doubt it.

Wouldn't mind a break from this place soon. It looks as if the crisis over Kosovo is going to go on for months.

I suppose we shouldn't be surprised that the 20th Century is ending like this. After all, our century has been the most blood-soaked in human history.

I'm starting to think that the long peace that we had after 1945 and then the end of the Cold War in 1989 fooled us all. Perhaps Europe's natural condition is to be turbulent.

When the Balkan war started in 1991, I remember seeing a tank moving through a burning village in Croatia, one beautiful sunlit late summer afternoon. It looked like a movie.

But that day, I couldn't believe what I was seeing. War in Europe. That was supposed to belong to the past, but now we've got used again to war. The big powers are being sucked in and it seems to be escalating fast.

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