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Root of the problem

KOSOVO CRISIS

The Kosovo conflict stems from a decision by the Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic in 1990 to cancel the region's autonomy within Yugoslavia. The decision was strongly opposed by the majority ethnic Albanian population, and by 1998 open fighting between Serbian forces and the Kosovan Liberation Army had killed a reported 1,500 Kosovans and displaced 400,000 from their homes.

In response to the crisis Nato bombing of Kosovo and Yugoslavia started on March 23 after a year of diplomatic efforts to draw the fighting to an end broke down. The effect of the bombing was to accelerate the rate of expulsions of Kosovans from their homes. Refugees started to pour over the borders with neighbouring countries Macedonia, Albania and the Yugoslav republic of Montenegro.

The latest figures from the British Department for International Development put the number Kosovans driven out of the province at 900,000. A further 500,000 are believed to have been forced out of their homes but remain inside Kosovo.

Of those who have escaped the majority - an estimated 440,000 - are in Albania. Most crossed the border near the town of Kukes where transit camps have been set up. From there refugees are being moved into host families and to refugee camps in other parts of Albania.

In the last week Nato has announced that it is boosting the number of ground troops in countries bordering Kosovo to 60,000 with a view to bringing the crisis to an end. International Development Secretary Clare Short has suggested that refugees could be returned to their homes before the winter if Nato forces invade Kosovo by September, but most aid workers believe extensive land mining and damage to property will prevent this.

There are as yet no accurate assessments of the scale of the damage inside Kosovo as only a handful of United Nations and Red Cross staff have been allowed back into the country. However, refugees who have crossed into Albania have reported seeing 'almost every other' village being burned by the Serbs. Nato's latest public reports are that at least 40 bridges and tunnels have been bombed and destroyed in Kosovo, reducing traffic on the roads by 50% and cutting all rail links.

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