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Serbs Destroy Refugees' Identity Papers

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 31, 1999 – Serb border guards are systematically confiscating and destroying Kosovar refugees' birth certificates, marriage licenses, property deeds and other public documents, according to NATO officials.

This "identity elimination" represents "a kind of Orwellian scenario of attempting to deprive a people and a culture of the sense of community on which it depends," NATO spokesman Jamie Shea said March 31. "This attempt to rewrite history reminds me of George Orwell's '1984,' which I believed was fiction, but now seems to be actually happening in reality."

Thousands of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo have fled their homes for neighboring countries as Serb violence continues, Shea said.

NATO authorities are urgently addressing an on-going crisis near the Pagarusa Valley, where a large number of refugees and some Kosovo Liberation Army elements are surrounded by Serb soldiers and special police. The artillery and tanks of three Serb brigades shelled the besieged Kosovars March 30 and 31, said British Royal Air Force Air Commodore David Wilby, SHAPE spokesman.

The massive flood of Kosovar refugees is providing substantial evidence of the accuracy of NATO's assessment of Yugoslav army and police brutality and tactics, Wilby added. The Serbs are separating ethnic Albanian men from their families and may possibly be using them as human shields for military targets, Shea noted.

Humanitarian organizations now face an enormous challenge, according to NATO's Shea. U.N. officials are making contingency plans for another 150,000 refugees to join the 100,000 already in Albania, he said. About 5,000 Kosovars crossed into Macedonia March 30 -- 12 percent of all the people in the country now are ethnic Albanian refugees. Yugoslav border guards have slowed the refugee flow somewhat by periodically closing the frontiers, he added.

Along with refugees who cross into neighboring states, tens of thousands more are hiding in Kosovo's woods and mountains, he added. "These people are in a truly precarious position, Shea said. "They have no food, no water, no shelter. At least those refugees outside Kosovo can be succored by the international community."

"NATO countries are at the forefront of the international communities effort to help these people," he said. The member nations are mobilizing ships and planes rapidly to provide tents, food, medical supplies and other necessities, he said.

Allied Forces Southern Europe has sent a team to Albania to assess how best NATO can help. Italy has deployed a contingent of ground troops to Albania to help set up tents, hospitals and sanitation facilities, Shea noted.

The ultimate solution to the humanitarian crisis, Shea stressed, is an effective cease-fire and a political settlement. Only then will the refugees return home, he said.

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