With the outside world doing little to stop them, heavily armed Serbian police backed by Yugoslav army soldiers are stepping up their terror against ethnic Albanian civilians in Kosovo, driving tens of thousands from homes and shelling, looting and burning villages.

In at least one village in southern Kosovo, police are demolishing brick homes that survived being set afire. In a village nearby, police told residents they must surrender any weapons they had or their homes would be burned to the ground, according to villagers and the local Roman Catholic priest.While the government asserts that it destroys homes only if combat conditions make this inevitable, foreign diplomats say the Serbs obviously hope to clear ethnic Albanian supporters of the rebels from vast areas of Kosovo.

Relief agencies estimate that up to 200,000 civilians have fled their homes since the government began a military offensive against ethnic Albanian rebels on July 19. The rebels had seized control of large parts of Kosovo in their bid to make the Serbian-ruled province an independent country.

Many refugees are still living in the open. Foreign relief workers report that many of them, especially the elderly and the young, are growing increasingly weak and suffering from disease.

But most reject the government's urgings to return home, either because they fear police or army attacks or because their homes have been destroyed.