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Update No. 98/07 on the activities of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement in response to the crisis in Kosovo

12-08-1998 Operational Update

 The humanitarian crisis in Kosovo scaled new heights as the major operations launched in recent weeks by Serb forces against the strongholds of the ethnic Albanian insurgents (UCK) resulted in the biggest population movement since the crisis began and left thousands of people in a desperate plight.  

 Operations by Serb forces have been ongoing since the battle of Orahovac in mid-July and have centered around Malishevo, the Drenica area, Junik and the triangle zone of Pec-Klina-Djakovica. Tens of thousands have scattered in many directions to take refuge in neighbouring towns and villages or to seek a precarious sanctuary in forests and mountains.  

 ICRC teams supported by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, were quickly dispatched to all main places where the displaced have arrived, to help the traumatised people and provide emergency assistance where needed.  

 Population displacement and ICRC response:  

The speed of events and the fluidity of population movement makes it difficult to clarify exactly the number of the recently displaced until the situation stabilises. The picture is further complicated by the fact that many of the people fleeing in recent weeks would have already moved several times in the past months. However, it is clear from information gathered from field teams who have travelled extensively in the region that the number of people who have left their home s since the crisis began is now well over 100,000.

 Flashpoints:  

 Malishevo:  

Serb forces started the attack on the UCK in the area of Malishevo at the end of July. This resulted in the exodus of almost all of the civilian population of Malishevo and surroundings, including those who had recently arrived there from Orahovac. Those who fled went either to the mountain ranges west and north east of the town (to join the large number of people who had already sought safety there) or south to Mamusa, Pagarusha, Prizren and other small places along the same route. ICRC teams were quickly on-the-spot in all these places.

As delegates witnessed, the families who are sheltering in the mountains include large numbers of elderly, women and small children. They are living without adequate shelter with little food reserves, no access to medical treatment and inadequate supplies of drinking water which, in the current searing heat poses a serious health risk.

Whilst ICRC was able to provide an emergency response, it is clear that much more needs to be done as quickly as possible as the situation remains precariously balanced for these desperate people.

Those who left Malishevo to head south towards Prizren and the towns and villages along the way are being mainly supported by the existing community, although this inevitably puts a large strain on the already stretched resources. ICRC has delivered as a first-shot assistance, consisting in food and non-food items to displaced in a dozen places in the days since Malishevo came under Serb control.

In Malishevo itself and surroundings, ICRC delegates witnessed the sight of houses burning or burnt to the ground. This disturbing phenomenon is s ignificant in that it adds to the existing fear expressed by many of the displaced of returning to their homes.

 Drenica area:  

In the last few days, there has been renewed fighting in the Drenica area. Thousands have already left towards Kosovska Mitrovica, Vucitrn and surroundings. ICRC delegates managed to access the Drenica area despite ongoing fighting and gathered information that several thousands of people could be trapped.

In the Drenica area the ICRC found a group of around 500 people seeking safety in a river bed. With the agreement of the Serb authorities, teams were able to return the following day to evacuate 55 of the most vulnerable in the group who wished to leave. According to further information gathered, there could be thousands more in the same predicament either too frightened or lacking the transport means to leave and it is important that those who wish are allowed to do so as soon as possible.

 ICRC response and other priorities:  

 +  For the displaced:  

 - For displaced people in a dozen villages and towns (including Prizren, Mamusa, Kosovska Mitrovica and Suha Reka) and for those who are scattered in the mountains, the ICRC, with support from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, has over the last few days provided basic emergency relief. To reach the displaced, teams have conducted over 30 field trips. So far, well over 100 metric tonnes in assistance, including individual food parcels, wheat flour, hygiene material, baby kits and other essential items from current stocks in place in Pristina were delivered. The ICRC is in the process of rebuilding its stocks in Pristina and reinforcing its team to be able to continue to respond to the growing needs.

 - In addition, for those who sought refuge in forests and mountains , the ICRC is endeavouring to   organise for clean water supplies . Jerrycans have already been distributed to these people and water and sanitation equipment has been mobilised from existing ICRC stocks in the region. In addition, a water and sanitation engineer has just now arrived in Pristina. 

- Through close contact with all the groups of recently displaced, it is apparent that they are also deeply marked by the trauma of what they have experienced and the deep uncertainty which plagues their immediate future. It is clear that, particularly for those sheltering in the countryside, their present situation is not a viable option - especially with the onset of winter. Whilst some people returned to Orahovac, it is important that the conditions continue to be created by the authorities to allow those who wish to return home to do so in safety and dignity . The ICRC is committed to ensuring this is the case by intervening with the authorities if appropriate and by standing ready to provide the necessary practical support to the returnees.

 + For the sick and wounded: So far, the ICRC has delivered supplies to medical facilities in a dozen places, some of which have faced serious shortages because of the influx of wounded people. In addition, the ICRC has organised for the transport of serious and urgent medical cases for professional treatment.

 + For the abducted Serbs:    not to spare any efforts in gaining   immediate access to the more than 130 Serbs reported as abducted by their relatives to the ICRC so as to ease the anguish of their families.

 + For the ethnic Albanians arrested or having lost contact with their relatives: to continue to visit or gain immediate access to those ethnic Albanians who have been arrested or to gather information about their whereabouts if they are not in places of detention.