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Macedonia Won’t Accept Refugees

April 3, 1999 GMT

BLACE, Macedonia (AP) _ Macedonia announced today it could not accept any more Kosovo refugees and called on its neighbors and the European Union to help shelter a massive wave of ethnic Albanians.

With another 50,000 waiting to enter, Macedonia’s top government officials said the army would prevent the illegal entry of any more refugees.

``The security situation in the country could be seriously endangered because of the huge wave of refugees from Kosovo,″ the Macedonian Security Council said after an all-night meeting.

It fell short of saying Macedonia would entirely seal its borders with neighboring Yugoslavia to all travelers or turn back any asylum seekers.

Macedonia, a former Yugoslav republic, has large Serb and ethnic Albanian communities and fears the tensions that exploded into open conflict in neighboring Kosovo could sweep across its territory.

The council _ made up of President Kiro Gligorov, Prime Minister Ljubco Giorgievski, and senior Cabinet members _ also appealed to the international community to provide urgent assistance ``to prevent the humanitarian catastrophe.″

The announcement came as the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said the number of refugees packed in a small field in the area straddling the border with Yugoslavia had reached 65,000 today.

Gen. Trajce Krstevski, chief of the Macedonian general staff, announced a partial mobilization of the 12,000-member armed forces to control the frontier.

As dawn broke, dozens of heavily armed police officers were seen arriving at this border crossing, where refugees were packed into an area about the size of three football fields. Most of the refugees arrived from Kosovo’s provincial capital, Pristina, on at least 12 trains over the past two days.

As Serb police expelled more ethnic Albanians from Kosovo, neighboring countries have been increasingly unable to cope with the refugee crisis.

Thousands more have crossed the border into Montenegro, which like Serbia, is a republic of Yugoslavia. Its government has tried to distance itself from Belgrade’s confrontation with NATO.

Montenegro has also said it is facing a humanitarian catastrophe and has asked the United Nations for help in getting international aid.

In the cold, muddy field in the Macedonian border town of Blace, rain extinguished small camp fires, adding to the misery of the refugees.

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With little or no food and water and no sanitary facilities, more than a dozen sick babies were taken out of the camp, while a couple of Red Cross tents were packed with more than two dozen sick people.

UNHCR spokeswoman Paula Ghedini denied reports that international aid agencies were not supplying enough food and blankets to keep people warm, but did say local authorities had been overwhelmed by the sheer number of arrivals.

``It is bigger than we had prepared for. Macedonians had been prepared for 2,000 or 3,000″ per day, she said.

The International Committee of the Red Cross announced Friday it was launching an initial appeal for more than $67 million to help refugees and civilians left behind.

``With the events deteriorating by the hour, a full appeal will be launched next week,″ it said in a statement.

NATO was reportedly considering a major humanitarian airlift to Macedonia and Albania, which has 120,000 refugees.

Aid officials in Albania watched as about 3,000 people crossed over to the village of Qafe E Prushit, so isolated that truck convoys cannot bring food over the rutted mountain paths or easily ferry people out to other parts of the country.

``If we don’t do something quickly, people are going to start to die,″ said Carit Vanasy, a field officer for the UNHCR.