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Kosovar tells of her perilous journey alone

By Charles M. Sennott, Globe Staff, 04/12/99

HARR MOUNTAINS, Macedonia-Yugoslavia Border - It was the only way out.

Fearing that her husband was dead and that the Serb forces would return to her Kosovo home and capture her, Umrije Selmani, 30, took to the imposing mountain terrain here to escape into Macedonia.

Yesterday, lying bruised and frightened on a hospital stretcher in an emergency medical care tent at the border, she recounted her story.

It began four days before, Selmani said, when Serb paramilitary forces beat her husband and took him from their home in Kosovo at gunpoint.

She waited for him overnight. She feared that he was dead and that the paramilitary forces would return to her home. Neighbors told her the Serbs had sealed the border, so she set out on foot for the mountains.

The odyssey began with a harrowing walk through the empty streets of her ethnic Albanian village. The Serb forces had expelled most people at gunpoint and those left behind hid in their homes, she said. She crossed a small bridge at the edge of town and saw a man lying face down in a stream who had apparently been shot. The body was decomposing, she said.

Across farmland in the fertile plain at the foot of the mountains, an Albanian farmer took her as far as the foothills of the mountains in a tractor. Then, for two days, Selmani hiked the mountain pass in below-freezing temperatures and through snow drifts up to a foot high. She had only a lightweight jacket and no food. As she neared what she believed was the Macedonian border, she fell from the face of a cliff into a river bed and, doctors treating her said, broke both ankles. She was unconscious.

When she awoke, soaking wet, she was not sure if she was on the Yugoslavian or Macedonian side of the border.

Selmani saw an elderly man passing by on a nearby dirt road. Unable to walk, she called out to him for help.

''Go away. Go away,'' the man said, refusing to help her.

Then Macedonian police arrived and took Selmani to the emergency medical tent at the border, where she lay frightened. But there was good news. After doctors had worked on her for an hour, they said her husband was registered at a nearby refugee camp.

''Thank God he is alive,'' she said.

Selmani was placed in an ambulance, and it disappeared down a mountain road on its way to reunite her with her husband. All else about her future remained uncertain.

This story ran on page A07 of the Boston Globe on 04/12/99.
© Copyright 1999 Globe Newspaper Company.

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