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Crisis in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Update 30.03.01

30-03-2001 Operational Update

Skopje (ICRC) - ICRC teams have begun to gain access to villages surrounding Tetovo, where they are assessing the consequences in humanitarian terms of the fighting that erupted last weekend.

Delegates have already visited the hillside villages of Sipkovica, Brodec, Vesala and Selce, as well as the village of Dzepciste near Tetovo town to which people from Germo fled last Sunday. Significant numbers of people were displaced from the villages before or during last weekend's offensive. In Selce, for example, delegates found that the people remaining were mainly elderly. Germo is also reported to be more or less empty. Thousands of people remaining in other villages are struggling to find food and medical supplies after being cut off for the last two weeks.

These hardships will be eased if the situation normalizes. There are already clear signs that this is occurring, as significant numbers of people are returning to Tetovo, where shops, businesses and schools have reopened. Similarly, there is reason to hope that the supply routes to the hillside villages will soon be restored and that the difficult humanitarian situation currently prevailing in the aftermath of the fighting will improve. The ICRC will continue to provide assistance for as long as necessary. Because normalization is apparently under way, the ICRC has stopped registering people displaced from the Tetovo region.

By the time it completes its distribution of aid, the Red Cross will have helped some 22,000 people across the country, including 14,800 in Skopje. Outside the capital, the largest numbers of displaced people were in Gostivar, where around 1,300 persons were registered. Some 1,300 familie s in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia have taken displaced people into their homes.

On 27 March, after receiving permission from the Macedonian authorities, an ICRC team managed to evacuate 28 civilians from the village of Vesala, near the Kosovo border. The group, mainly women, children and elderly people, wished to join relatives in Tetovo. Following a brief police check, they were taken by the ICRC directly to the homes of their relatives. The operation was an important signal of reassurance to the remaining villagers in Vesala. The ICRC was the first international organization to gain access to this area affected by the recent fighting.

The following day, the team was able to reach Selce for the first time since fighting began. They found a village virtually deserted apart from a group of mainly elderly people who had been unable to leave with their families. Urgently needed food supplies were brought up from Tetovo the same day. Following a recent ICRC survey of needs, food and other supplies were brought to Tetovo and the nearby village of Dzepciste.

On 29 March, the ICRC arranged for a medical team from Tetovo Hospital to travel to Selce, where they cared for the sick. Seven chronically ill and disabled patients were also evacuated by the ICRC to the hospital in Tetovo.

The same day, after being informed by villagers in Vesala that they were running very short of food, the ICRC took 200 food parcels and baby parcels to the village. On the way, the ICRC team also distributed some 600 food parcels in the villages of Sipkovica and Brodec.

 Refugees in Kosovo  

    

The ICRC, with support from the Belgian Red Cross, provided prompt assistance to several hundred exhausted people who had tr ekked through the mountains to Dragash, in Kosovo, after fleeing their villages in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

In an operation conducted with the local Red Cross and other local organizations under UNHCR coordination, ready-to-eat meals, hot meals and blankets were handed out to families who had made a treacherous overnight journey through the mountains to reach Kosovo. Many had spent days sheltering from the fighting in their cellars in the village of Selce before deciding to flee.

Mine-awareness teams from the ICRC have begun to warn the newly arrived people of the dangers of mines and unexploded ordnance in the area, whilst tracing teams have made satellite telephones available to give people the opportunity to contact their relatives in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia or elsewhere.

 In the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, the ICRC is the lead organization in the Red Cross/Red Crescent operation to protect and assist all those directly affected by the fighting. It is working in close cooperation with the Macedonian Red Cross and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, in strict accordance with its traditional principles of neutrality, impartiality and independence.  

Ref. LG 2001-022-ENG