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Friday, April 30, 1999 Published at 16:09 GMT 17:09 UK

World: Europe

Refugees speak of slaughter at Meja

Men 'separated from young, old and women'

The United Nations says there is little doubt that a mass killing took place in the village of Meja in the south west of Kosovo.

Kosovo: Special Report
Accounts given by refugees fleeing the area suggest as many as 200 people, possibly many more, may have been shot by Serb military forces.

Lyndall Sachs of the United Nations refugee agency (UNHNR) said:"We have had successive waves of refugees who have passed through that area (Meja) and they have all spoken of bodies lying in ditches and in fields.

[ image:  ]
"I think the fact that it has been verified and confirmed by refugees who have come from different parts of that part of the world - I don't think that there is any way they could have got together and said OK, let's have a story of a massacre in this particular village."

BBC reporters in northern Albania were told by one group of refugees that Serb forces stopped their convoy in Meja on Tuesday morning and forced up to 300 men to get out and stand in a small field.

Jeremy Bowen in Albania: People talk of systematic slaughter
A second group of refugees who passed through the village later that day reported seeing a big pile of bodies and 1,000 other Kosovan men, still alive, sitting in lines under armed guard.

"Five minutes after we left we heard shooting. It went on for 10, 15 minutes non-stop," one refugee from the second group told the BBC.

Eyewitnesses spoke of seeing as many as 300 bodies, at a stage when more men were still being separated from their families.

One eyewitness told the BBC that men were all forced to raise their hands and salute Serbia and say, "Long live Slobodan Milosevic!"

[ image: Women say male relatives were forced to leave families]
Women say male relatives were forced to leave families
Serb police were said to have worked their way down a line of tractors, and one family had ten males dragged from their vehicles.

Lyndall Sachs said that thousands of people had crossed into Macedonia and Albania in the past couple of days, with smaller numbers arriving in Montenegro.

She said it was clear the Serb authrorities were stepping up their campaign of forciable deportations, and there had been appalling human rights violations.

"Looking at the refugees who are coming across the border, the psychological and physical condition of these people, I really despair for the safety of those people still inside Kosovo."

Doctors and nurses are also among the refugees who have been forced to leave Kosovo, according to the UN refugee agency.

Medical staff forced to flee

The UNHCR says Serb forces are targetting intellectuals and professionals as they step up their campaign of ethnic cleansing.

The agency's comments are based on the stories told by refugees arriving in camps in northern Albania.

Most of the 1800 refugees crossing on Thursday afternoon came from the town of Prizren, which the UN fears is systematically being cleansed of Kosovo Albanians.

The UN refugee agency says in the past five days, there have been five incidents of paramilitary forces storming hospitals and offices singling out those in charge and driving them to the Albanian border.

According to a doctor and six Kosovo Albanian nurses, they were arrested while at work, bundled into a car and expelled.

No time to tell families

They told the UN within an hour, they had become refugees. They had no time to pack or tell their families.

The UN says such deportations are a way of intimidating the local community, depriving them of respected and influential members.

It believes a clear pattern is emerging in Prizren and that Serb forces are mounting a final push to cleanse the town of the remaining Kosovo Albanians.

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