Serbian forces fortify Kosovo border posts

Thousands of refugees seem to have vanished

War In Yugoslavia

April 09, 1999|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

KUKES, Albania -- Serbian forces were positioning tanks and artillery along the Kosovo border yesterday, one day after tens of thousands of refugees vanished when the Serbs turned their convoys back from the border.

"We just don't know where they are or what is happening to them," Laura Boldrini, a spokeswoman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, said of the column of fleeing ethnic Albanians estimated by aid officials to number some 80,000.

Refugees who crossed the border from Kosovo into Albania yesterday reported that the main highway stretching north, which had been so clogged with the slow-moving line of people on foot, in cars and in farm carts pulled by tractors, was absolutely empty of refugees. Boldrini said the few families who came across apparently had been let across because the older family members had been born in Albania.

"They said there was a long, long queue of empty vehicles burned and destroyed and no one around except the military positioning guns," she said.

On their side of the border crossing, Serbian soldiers were seen setting up mortars and laying mines in the trenches they dug on Wednesday. Farther back there is believed to be a battery of four D-30 Howitzers, a light 122-mm field gun with a range of 10 miles.

At the now-closed Qafr-e-Prushit border crossing in the rugged mountains to the northwest, aid workers said they have seen Serbs gouging out berms with bulldozers to shelter T-55 tanks.

"The Serbs are digging in furiously all along the border," said Eugene O'Sullivan, chief of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe observer team here.

At the same time, air workers are worried that the tens of thousands of refugees suddenly turned back Wednesday may have been brought back to the larger towns that had been collecting points for some sinister purpose, such as being used as human shields against NATO forces.

Pub Date: 4/09/99

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