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Crisis in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Update 04.04.01

04-04-2001 Operational Update

Skopje (ICRC) - ICRC teams continue to visit villages around Tetovo in response to the ongoing need for humanitarian aid. Although there are indications that the situation is beginning to normalize — on Monday, for example, ICRC staff witnessed busloads of people returning to the village of Selce — the consequences in humanitarian terms of the recent fighting linger on and make the ICRC's continued assistance necessary.

Other concerns include the plight of civilians who may still be trapped in the Crna Gora region — the scene of recently renewed military activity involving the Macedonian security forces — and of some 70 displaced people who have arrived in the Kumanovo region in recent days. A rapid assessment of the situation in Crna Gora and assistance for the recent arrivals in Kumanovo will therefore be among the ICRC's immediate priorities.

Police and military checkpoints in the villages above Tetovo have restricted the population's freedom of movement, although there are increasing signs that supplies are getting through. On Monday, for example, delegates in Sipkovica noticed that shops had replenished their stocks and that restaurants were open. This is especially encouraging as the village has traditionally been a trading post for the surrounding area.

So far, some 2,000 people in the villages of Vesala, Brodec, Sipkovica and Selce have received food assistance and blankets from the ICRC. Around 50 civilians wishing to join relatives in Tetovo, mainly women, children and elderly people, have also been evacuated by the ICRC from these villages. The presence of the ICRC and other international organizations is reassuring to the population, who h ave expressed a certain anxiety about the police and military forces on the ground. It is important now that the ICRC maintain this presence and pay close attention to the concerns of the population.

In Tetovo itself there are clear signs that the situation is rapidly returning to normal. The town is once again bustling with people and traffic. Shops have reopened and commercial activity has resumed. A small number of displaced people from hillside villages and residents of Tetovo directly affected by the recent fighting are in the process of being registered and assisted by the ICRC and the Macedonian Red Cross. With the exception of these people, the ICRC considers that the general population are no longer suffering from the consequences of the conflict. As a result, registration and relief distributions will soon cease.

A significant proportion of the approximately 22,000 people registered by the Macedonian Red Cross in the immediate aftermath of the fighting in the Tetovo region have meanwhile returned to their homes. The ICRC is not continuously monitoring the exact number of returnees, which will be known in two weeks'time when only the remaining displaced persons registered with the Macedonian Red Cross return for further assistance.

The operational priority for the ICRC is to conduct assessments in villages of the Tetovo region that it has not yet visited and assist the population where necessary. Yesterday, teams travelled to Gajre, where the residents were beginning to return, and Lisec, a village where the population has faced hardships due to being cut off for more than two weeks.

Delegates will maintain a presence in the region and monitor the situation closely. They will gather information from villagers about problems they may be having and follow up on reported arrests.

 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 2001-023-ENG