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Mired In Black Mud And Red Tape

It is a scene that is unimaginable to anyone who has a roof over his head and a bed to call his own. In freezing fields of mud and excrement, nearly 400,000 Albanian refugees continue to struggle for survival in the Kosovo crisis.

According to the United Nations, 35,000 have sought refuge in the neutral province of Montenegro, the smaller of the two republics that make up Yugoslavia; 239,000 are in Albania; and 120,000 are in Macedonia.

Salvation of a sort is coming to the Kosovo refugees mired at the Macedonian border, reports CBS News Correspondent Allen Pizzey. Under pressure from Western governments and humanitarian aid agencies, Macedonia has agreed to a plan to save them.

Macedonia, a former Yugoslav republic, agreed to let refugees pass over its border in return for a promise that nearly all would go elsewhere. Fearing political and ethnic instability as a result of the refugees' arrival, Macedonia has said it can take in no more than 20,000.

Up to 20,000 also will go to the U.S. There were reports Monday morning that those refugees will be held either in Cuba or the U.S. territory of Guam, but the Pentagon said no final decision had been made.

The grand scale of the catastrophe tends to overwhelm its individual, human aspect. Amidst the heaving seas of humanity are countless small islands of pain and tragedy, says Pizzey.

Necessary though the politicking and deal-making may be, to those trapped in the struggle, in the mud, they tend to be meaningless; and, for a growing number, too late to matter, anyway.

A Look At The Terrain, The Targets And The Weapons
Even as the deal was being cut to move the refugees out, there were reports of more trainloads arriving at the border. The Serbs, it seems, remain determined to continue to defy the outside world.

A small comfort: The refugees are closer to NATO troops than to the Serbs now, a situation that is surely less terrifying that what has gone before.

And for a few hundred lucky ones, there was transport to the new NATO-built transit camps farther inside the Macedonia border, CBS News Correspondent Kimberly Dozier reports. Officials rushed refugees onto buses bound for the transit centers, only to make them wait for as long as eight hours on a cld road. Well past midnight, the first were allowed into the tents.

Contributions to the United Nations' relief effort for Kosovo refugees can be made to:

USA for UNHCR
1775 K St. NW, Suite 300
Washington, D.C. 20006
Telephone: 202-296-5191 or 1-800-770-1100

AmeriCares
161 Cherry Street
New Canaan, CT 06840
Telephone: 800-486-HELP

From the border crossing just inside Macedonia, tens of thousands of people are mired in mud and, according to aid workers, also mired by delays by a country that doesn't want them there.

Inside the transit camps, the situation is uncertain. Refugees haven't been told when they're going to be moved on to the next place. They can't reach their relatives, and they don't know what to do. Although many have been provided with tents and blankets, they have nothing to shelter them from the cold coming up through the ground.

The Pentagon has sent troops to help the relief effort, reports CBS News Correspondent Randall Pinkston. From their base in Italy, three U.S. Air Force helicopters arrived at the airport in Tirana, Albania, to join the multinational mercy mission.

As many as 450 members of other military service branches will help move food and water into the area, in hopes of relieving what some are calling the worst refugee crisis since World War II.

A U.S. Air Force C-17 cargo jet arrived in Tirana on Easter Sunday with 79,000 pounds of food and water. It was the first new American military presence on the ground in the Balkans since NATO began bombing Yugoslavia.

The commander of the mission says he does not know how long they will be here. But, given the continuing flood of refugees into Albania, it could be a very long time.

United Nations refugee chief Sadako Ogata on Sunday urged countries outside the Balkans to take in some of the hundreds of thousands of people streaming out of Kosovo.

"Kosovo's neighbors are swamped and they are no longer able to cope with the influx," said Ogata, the U.N. high commissioner for refugees.

Ogata's appeal came as her staff on the Albanian border relayed more grim tales of the refugees' plight, including reports of children dying of dehydration.

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said Sunday that the European Union is prepared to airlift as many as 100,000 refugees out of the region