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Wednesday, April 28, 1999 Published at 11:12 GMT 12:12 UK

World: Europe

Refugees tell of three-day rape ordeal

Refugees are exhausted as they arrive in Albania

As the influx of refugees from Kosovo into neighbouring Former Republic of Macedonia and Albania continues, more disturbing stories are emerging of wholesale rape of women and physical abuse of children.

Kosovo: Special Report
Almost 500 refugees crossed into northern Albania on Monday night, and about half of them, mostly women and children, said they had been ill treated.

They told consistent stories of Serbian forces entering their village of Dragacina in south-western Kosovo, rounding them up and placing around 300 in three houses.

The BBC's Jeremy Bowen: "The life they had has been destroyed"
About ten elderly men were taken to a fourth house, the rest of the menfolk, all of fighting age, had already escaped to the mountains.

For three consecutive nights, they say, Serbian soldiers entered the basement where they were being held. They used flashlights to search for young women and took them away.

[ image: Most of the women from Dragacina did not want to give their identities]
Most of the women from Dragacina did not want to give their identities
Speaking to the BBC's Jeremy Bowen in the refugee camp at Kukes, one woman said she had been forced to take her clothes off at gunpoint and serve a group of men drinks. Then she was raped as the men watched.

Another woman told a United Nations aid worker how her children had knives held to their throats because the Serbs found a photograph of their father in a rebel Kosovo Liberation Army uniform.

[ image:  ]
On being released, the women and children were ordered to leave Kosovo. They say they think the old men being held were shot.

The refugees stories cannot be independently corroborated but human rights monitors who are speaking to the women say the are hearing the same stories again and again.

United Nations Children's Fund spokesperson Penelope Lewis says: "They all said they have never come across such a large number of consistent accounts of sexual abuse of a large number of women."

Overcrowded camps

In Macedonia, the United Nations has warned that refugees arriving from Kosovo will have to sleep on the ground because of overcrowding in the refugee camps.

Around 3,500 refugees arrived in Macedonia on Monday - the largest daily influx in more than a week.

(Click here to see a map of refugee movements.)

The office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees says its attempts to offer basic shelter are being frustrated by bureaucratic delays.

Refugees urged to move on

The UN is trying to persuade the refugees who have reached Albania to move south, due to overcrowding and security concerns near the Kosovo border.

Many are reluctant to leave, wanting to stay as near to Kosovo as possible.

There are still 500,000 displaced people in Kosovo, many of them trying to reach the Albanian border, according to Nato and UNHCR estimates.

The humanitarian evacuation of particularly vulnerable refugees has speeded up. A total of 1,252 persons were flown to other European countries on Monday

Kosovo newspaper reborn

The first issue of the relaunched Kosovo Albanian newspaper, Koha Ditore, has been distributed free in refugee camps in Macedonia.

The editor, Baton Haxhiu, said it was a bridge between Kosovo and its deported people, intended to give them hope that they would soon be back home.

The relaunched paper has received funding from the United Kingdom Foreign Office, which paid for computers, Internet links and newsprint.

[ image:  ]

(Click here to return.)

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