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Among Kosovo's 'cleansed'

They spilled out of Kosovo on foot and in cars, aboard tractors and horse carts, their tears and haggard faces testifying to the worst onslaught of "ethnic cleansing" Europe has witnessed since World War II.

Swept from their homes by Serbian forces, more than 600,000 ethnic Albanians have fled since the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia began March 24. Some 355,000 went through the border town of Kukes in Albania, and plans called for relocating them to camps in the south.

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But more than 100,000 have stayed in Kukes, a crumbling town of 25,000 people struggling to live in the poorest region of Europe's poorest country.

About 20,000 refugees are housed in tented encampments run by foreign governments and aid agencies; the rest squat in muddy, garbage-strewn fields or the town's dirty squares, living beneath plastic sheets and in the backs of tractor-drawn wagons.

While food aid is plentiful and conditions in some camps are good, those in the unofficial settlements are squalid, with families enduring heavy rains and winds. Parents do their best to keep clothes and children clean, but it is a never-ending battle with the seas of mud. Many men while away the hours talking about the lives they were forced to leave behind.

Some international aid agencies have started schools in several camps, and efforts are being made to improve sanitation.

Aid workers and the Albanian government want all the refugees to move to camps in the south, afraid that as NATO steps up its attacks in Kosovo, the Serbs could retaliate by shelling the Kukes area.

But many of those who stay here refuse to heed the pleas made over loudspeakers from police vans, unwilling to be separated from members of their extended families or people from the areas from which they came.

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