On March 24, 1999, NATO launched the largest mission of the 50-year-old
alliance a sustained bombing campaign to compel Serb forces
to end abuses and leave Kosovo and to allow international forces
to enter the province.
But the abuses committed by the Serbs had already
begun and half of the Kosovar Albanian population, nearly a million
civilians and rebel fighters, were forced to flee to neighboring
Albania, Montenegro and Macedonia.
Over and over again, Serb paramilitaries with
black ski masks entered Albanian communities, knocked on doors and
displayed automatic weapons, telling the residents they had to leave
within five or ten minutes. Many who resisted were shot. Upon leaving,
the Serbs demanded money. People who refused or didnt have
any money were killed. They were forced to leave by train, car,
cart, or foot to the border. Many exiles spent weeks walking around
Kosovo seeking exit, only to be turned back at the border either
by the Serbs or Macedonians. When they did finally leave, all of
their identity documents were confiscated.
All along the route, there was constant terror.
One woman, now in Skopje, spoke of an elderly neighbor who didnt
want to leave her home and was shot by Serb paramilitaries. She
retold her tale of spending four days in exodus with children who
wouldnt eat or drink and about Serb paramilitaries threatening
to kill other Serbs who offered them water. Hundreds of thousands
of refugees with similar tales arrived in Macedonia. There were
now two crises for the international community to contend with.
One was war with Yugoslavia; the other was a million refugees.