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Update No. 98/01 on ICRC activities in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia: special focus on Kosovo

10-03-1998 Operational Update

Mounting tensions during the course of last year in Kosovo culminated in unrest in the region early last week and outbreaks of violence in the area of Srbica (50km to the west of Pristina) and surrounding villages. In response, the ICRC provided medical assistance to various health centres for the treatment of the injured. After days of negotiations, the ICRC finally managed to obtain access to Srbica itself. The ICRC is in close contact with the Yugoslav authorities and representatives of the Albanian community, and is building up its supplies and staff presence in order to furnish assistance should needs arise. 

The ICRC has been involved in the area since 1989 and, in March 1990, started visiting security detainees held in connection with the troubles in Kosovo in the then Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Its permanent presence was established in 1991, when the delegation in Belgrade was opened. Sub-delegations in Podgorica (Montenegro) and Pristina (Kosovo) were set up soon afterwards. There are currently four expatriates working in Belgrade and three in Pristina (including a health delegate).

 ICRC ACTIVITIES  

 Medical  

In February this year, the ICRC medical team completed its survey of the health system in Kosovo in order to assess the emergency preparedness of the local health institutions, international organizations and NGOs in terms of medical programmes. The study clearly showed that ICRC priorities would be to ensure access to medical care and assistance should the political situation in t he region deteriorate.

On 1 March, two medical staff based in Pristina distributed 55 dressing sets to two health structures in the region which enabled them to treat injuries following the eruption of violence on 1 and 2 March. Additional specialized supplies (sufficient for the treatment of 400 wounded) are on their way from Zagreb. Medical materials were distributed in Srbica on 8 March in order to increase the local medical structure's ability to cope with a possible influx of injured people.

 Protection  

In the second half of February, detention teams carried out a comprehensive round of visits to 106 prisoners (the vast majority of whom are of Albanian origin) in nine detention centres throughout the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

The ICRC intends to gain access to all persons arrested in connection with the disturbances but, at present, its delegates are authorized to visit such persons only once they have been sentenced by a court of law. It is therefore essential that they also be allowed to visit people in preventive detention or under investigation without delay. Furthermore, the institution is worried at reports of civilians fleeing their homes and persons sheltering in the woods around Srbica and surrounding villages in the area following disturbances there.

The ICRC is most concerned about the current unrest and reminds the relevant authorities of their duty to exercise restraint and to act with discernment, especially towards civilians and persons arrested in connection with the situation. 

 Relief  

The ICRC is keenly monitoring the situation of the civilian population and is anxious to help meet humanitarian needs which might arise.

 Cooperation  

Following discussions with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (the Federation) and in accordance with the Seville agreement, it was agreed that the ICRC would be the lead agency for International Red Cross operations in Kosovo. Coordinating mechanisms have been established between the two institutions both in the field and at headquarters level. The Federation has decided to boost the basic food and non-food disaster preparedness stocks of the National Societies of Albania and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.