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Update No. 98/03 on the activities of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement in response to the crisis in Kosovo

29-05-1998 Operational Update No 98/03

The general situation in Kosovo has continued to deteriorate in recent weeks and a political solution does not appear to be imminent, although diplomatic efforts to encourage dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina did result in the first working talks between President Milosevic of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) and the Kosovo Albanian leader Ibrahim Rugova on 22 May. Tension and violence has now spread from the central area around Drenica towards the south-west and the border regions with northern Albania (Decane and Djakovica), where fighting, killings, abductions and disappearances have been reported. Both the UCK (Kosovo Liberation Army) and the Serb security forces have increased their presence in the province and units of the Yugoslav army have been deployed along the Albanian border, from where outbursts of fighting have been reported.

As a result the number of dead and injured has continued to climb, supply lines between Serbia and Kosovo have been adversely affected and insecurity is widespread, prompting small but regular displacements of both Kosovo Albanian and Serb families and groups. So far, most of these movements have been limited to within the province itself.

 Field trips continue  

ICRC delegates carried out field trips to the troubled areas on an almost daily basis in order to gain as much information as possible about conditions in the affected towns and villages. Delegates also use these opportunities to build up contacts with local interlocutors and representatives of all sides, as well as with checkpoint personnel controlling access to various regions, providing them with information on the role and activities of the ICRC and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (Federation) in the Kosovo context.

The teams regularly visit hospitals and health-care establishments to check available facilities and assess potential needs. In addition, the ICRC tries to ensure that all patients receive the treatment they need and that doctors have access to those patients. Medical structures are regularly provided with dressings and basic medicines. (Earlier this month, for example, the hospital in Pec received surgical supplies, as stocks were almost at an end. Water and sanitation conditions in the hospital were also checked.) First-aid training has been initiated for staff in health structures and first-aid posts have been set up in some of them.

Ad-hoc deliveries of food, non-food and hygiene items were made to vulnerable people in villages where the lack of security prevented or hindered access to these basic supplies. Delegates are currently carrying out an assessment of water and sanitation needs with a view to developing activities in this domain, if necessary. In the meantime, support is being provided to public health institutions to improve water-quality testing and chlorination procedures.

 Protection activities  

The ICRC is continuing to focus on the issue of persons arrested in connection with the unrest in Kosovo and is maintaining contact with the authorities in order to be able to visit and register detainees.

Delegates are also endeavouring to follow up information received from both the Serb and the Albanian communities regarding alleged abductions and disappearances, violence towards civilians and loss of contact. A Red Cross message service has been offered to help restore family links and, so far, a small number of messages have been received, mainly from family members living abroad.

 Operational set-up  

In response to the developing situation the ICRC has reinforced its presence in Kosovo and in neighbouring areas. Four extra delegates, including a medical delegate and a water and sanitation engineer, have been posted to Pristina bringing the total to nine expatriates, seven from the ICRC and two from the Federation. Locally-hired staff (Serb and Albanian) are assisting the delegates there, and more will be recruited in the near future. One delegate is now in place at the ICRC office in the Montenegrin capital of Podgorica and there are four delegates at the delegation in Belgrade. The ICRC mission in Skopje is being upgraded to delegation status (i.e. has a direct link to ICRC headquarters in Geneva), with the permanent placement of two delegates who will maintain contact with the authorities and the National Society.

In addition to its ongoing detention and dissemination activities, the delegation in the Albanian capital, Tirana, is following events in Kosovo closely and has already visited the north-east of the country, together with the Albanian Red Cross, to assess the situation and possible needs there. Arrangements have been made to set up an ICRC office in the town of Kukes, close to the Albania/FRY border, in order to cope with a potential influx of refugees from Kosovo.

Emergency stocks of food and non-food items are being built up in both Belgrade and Pristina, where there are currently enough supplies for about 15,000 beneficiaries. Surgical and medical materials sufficient for a total of 1,600 wounded are also available in both centres. The Federation is pre-positioning food and non-food items for 1,300 beneficiaries in Tirana and Skopje and will send a delegate to both places this week to assis t the respective National Societies in their disaster preparedness planning.

 A coordinated approach  

In accordance with the Seville agreement the ICRC is the lead agency for international Red Cross operations in Kosovo. Consequently, the ICRC is now working with the Federation on the development of a plan to coordinate the activities of the Red Cross components in Kosovo. The Federation will maintain its existing programmes in favour of 15,000 Serb refugees in the region (part of a countrywide programme for over 100,000 refugees in total). In addition, the Federation is responsible for providing the local Red Cross with sufficient resources to carry out its operations effectively and for assisting in the development and training of staff and volunteers.