News 16 Apr 14

Kosovo and Albania Mark Anniversary of 1999 Exodus

Pristina and Tirana commemorated the 15th anniversary of the Kosovo exodus when thousands of ethnic Albanians fled their homes seeking refuge from the conflict with Serbian forces.

Edona Peci
BIRN
Pristina
 

Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci speaking in Kukes. Photo: Government of Kosovo.

 

Officials from Pristina and Tirana gathered on Wednesday in Kukes, a town in north-east Albania bordering Kosovo, to commemorate the exodus of ethnic Albanians from Kosovo in April 1999, after NATO launched its air strikes on Serbian forces in a bid to end the war.

“The exodus was a huge challenge for our nation which we overcame successfully by demonstrating incomparable solidarity and strong national unity,” Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci said at the ceremony.

“By remembering the massive deportations and other serious crimes committed against our people, we do not want to cultivate hatred but to make the historic truth clear to everyone,” he said.

According to the UN refugee agency, at least 262,000 people from Kosovo took refuge in Albania from March to the beginning of April 1999, and their numbers subsequently grew to over 400,000.

Most of them sought shelter in the houses of local inhabitants and remained there for several months before they were able to return to their homes in Kosovo.

Speaking about the 1999 conflict and the future of the region, Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama said that “more cooperation is needed and obstacles whose removal seems unimaginable need to be removed [in order to establish] peace”.

“I am convinced that this is a new era which will make us reflect on the future of the region and a time which can’t wait for the region to be integrated into a united Europe,” he added.

More than 10,000 people were killed during the 1998-99 Kosovo conflict, while more than 1,700 remain missing.

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