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Update N°99/01 on ICRC activities in Kosovo

11-02-1999 Operational Update

 General situation  

The developments in Kosovo since the end of last year have once more underscored the urgency and significance of a search for dialogue. Indeed, over the period between mid-December 1998 and early February 1999, tension has risen again to worrying levels. A range of violent incidents have occurred, including the indiscriminate targeting of public places in towns, isolated killings and instances of apparently deliberate attacks against civilians. For the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and other humanitarian actors, there has been real concern about a return to the degree of violence reminiscent of the summer of 1998, and its devastating impact on the different communities in Kosovo.

Confronted with this situation, the six-nation Contact Group on the former Yugoslavia reached a decision which culminated in negotiations, started on 6 February in Rambouillet, France, between a delegation from the Republic of Serbia and representatives of the Kosovo Albanian community. The object of the negotiations, jointly presided over by the French Foreign Minister, Mr Hubert Védrine and the British Foreign Secretary, Mr Robin Cook, is to find a settlement to the crisis in Kosovo.

 ICRC position  

In view of the discussions at Rambouillet and of the humanitarian issues on the agenda, the ICRC informed the six nations of the Contact Group on the eve of the negotiations about its firm intention to pursue its independent and impartial humanitarian action in Kosovo. It underscored its commitment, together with other components of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, to maintaining a substantial operational capacity on the ground. Without pre-empting the outcome of the talks, the ICRC drew particular attention to issues concerning access to all persons deprived of their freedom, persons unaccounted for and the protection of medical personnel. The ICRC emphasized its readiness, in the event of an agreement being reached, to serve as a neutral intermediary in all matters related to its mandate.

 ICRC response  

 Relief  

In recent weeks, delegates of the ICRC have intensified their efforts to assist displaced persons, including those who fled the areas affected by the most recent fighting, around Podujevo, Racak, Suva Reka and Kosovska Mitrovica, and vulnerable members of both communities.

In the course of the activities, it has become ever more apparent that security is the central concern for the majority of people. The problem is less about people lacking the means to purchase food, or about food being altogether unavailable. Rather, for a large number of individuals and families, the problem concerns the risks involved in trying to reach markets and distribution points.

The ICRC has continued to provide food and non-food assistance to an average of 40,000 persons a month in isolated areas of Kosovo. In January 1999, however, the ICRC increased the number of beneficiaries to 65,000. The people received 500 tonnes of food, 32,000 blankets and other non-food items. Warm clothes and boots were distributed as part of the winter assistance programme. The distribution of stoves to the 4,000 most vulnerable families i s under way. Furthermore, the ICRC has provided some tarpaulins and plastic sheeting to help people who have returned to their damaged houses cope with the winter. The ICRC has also continued to support the Yugoslav Red Cross Society by extending food and non-food assistance to 5,000 people displaced from Kosovo and living all over Serbia. In cooperation with the Yugoslav Red Cross, assistance was given to 500 vulnerable people, mainly IDPs from Kosovo, accommodated in Belgrade suburbs. Additionally, the International Federation continued its assistance programme for 6,500 socially needy people among the Serbian and Albanian communities.

In Montenegro, the ICRC pursued its close cooperation with the Montenegrin branch of the Yugoslav Red Cross through the distribution of food and non-food items to approximately 30,000 displaced people from Kosovo, Ulcinj, Plav and Barane.

 Medical  

Since the beginning of the crisis, the ICRC has been providing some 30 health facilities, from major hospitals to health posts, with basic supplies to help them cope with additional demands. During the recent period of intense violence, ICRC mobile medical teams continued evacuations of seriously wounded and sick people to main hospitals.

A rehabilitation programme for damaged health facilities and infrastructure has been launched, starting with the reconstruction of two ambulantas and the supply, to ten additional ambulantas, of medical material, ranging from essential medicine and drugs for the management of chronic diseases to surgical material for the treatment of the wounded

For its mobile clinic programme, the ICRC recently received a donation of four mobile ambulantas from the German government, through the German Red Cross.

Apart from seeing to the material needs of health institutions, the ICRC closely monitors the security situation of medical personnel and the problems of access to medical services for the sick and wounded, in order to make interventions with the relevant authorities.

 Water and sanitation  

In Klina municipality, the cleaning of 35 contaminated shallow wells was completed in January.

The ICRC has also completed the installation of water tanks/bladders and has been delivering water to the hospital and school in Srbica and to an apartment block in Glogovac, for approximately 15,000 beneficiaries.

 Protection  

Another priority remains the concern for all persons either detained by the Yugoslav and Serbian authorities or held by the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA).

The full round of visits to 16 places of detention in Kosovo and elsewhere in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, which began at the end of October 1998, resumed in the second half of January 1999. The ICRC continued to note improvements in the system of notifications, in other words, the process whereby the authorities inform the ICRC of the prisoners they hold. The figure now lies at 770. ICRC delegates have been able to visit over 500 detainees since the end of October 1998, including a large number of people still under investigation.

Discussions have continued with members of the KLA on the fate and whereabouts of some 140 Serbs who remain unaccounted for. This process has yet to yield concrete results. The ICRC has also followed up with the Serbian authorities the cases of several Albanians who have reportedly disappeared.

 ICRC presence  

 Delegation: Belgrade  

 Sub-delegations: Pristina, Podgorico  

 Offices: Pec, Prizen, Berane  

Over the past months, the ICRC has greatly increased its presence and activities particularly in Kosovo, but also in other areas affected by the Kosovo crisis. An average of ten teams of ICRC delegates work in over a dozen different locations in Kosovo each day.