Crisis in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Update 10.05.01
10-05-2001 Operational Update
Current humanitarian concerns
Skopje (ICRC) - The resumption of hostilities in the Kumanovo region of fYROM has triggered mounting concerns for the plight of hundreds, possibly thousands of civilians who are trapped in overcrowded makeshift bunkers in rapidly deteriorating conditions. Access to medical care for the chronically sick is a particular concern. The ICRC was able to secure three ceasefires from both sides in the conflict in order to reach the affected villages, namely Slupcane and Vaksince, where it arranged for the evacuation of vulnerable persons and delivered much-needed medical supplies.
It will continue to try to gain access to these villages to offer, in its role as neutral intermediary, the opportunity for people to leave if they wish and to respond to immediate humanitarian needs. Unfortunately, because of the volatile security situation, it has not been possible to reach the villages since the last visit on Sunday, 6th May. However, efforts are ongoing and the ICRC makes daily attempts to reach the stricken people.
The ICRC has taken the opportunity to remind both sides in the conflict of their obligations under international humanitarian law which demands that they take all necessary precautions to protect civilians and others not taking part in the fighting from the effects of the hostilties.
A number of newly-displaced people, have started to arrive in Kumanovo from villages close to the front-line. The Macedonian Red Cross has registered just over 1000 displaced persons and relief aid has already been dispatched by the ICRC for distribution.
Another priority for the ICRC is to try urgently to gain access to the persons - one soldier and two civilians - currently reported as being held by the ethnic Albanian armed groups. Contacts have been established with the families of this group, whose anxiety for news of their whereabouts understandably increases daily. The families have taken the opportunity to write Red Cross messages to be given to their relatives by the ICRC.
The ICRC, through its dialogue with the armed groups has asked for immediate access to those held in captivity. . Its role in this regard is to be able to visit the persons detained in order to ensure that they are being treated properly and to ensure the exchange of Red Cross messages between them and their family members. It also stands ready, as neutral intermediary, to facilitate any eventual release.
In another operation, the ICRC today began distributions, with support from the Macedonian Red Cross, to people who were directly affected by the previous outbreak of fighting in the Tetovo region. Around 2600 people will receive food and hygiene parcels in a one-time assistance.
ICRC Response to current events in the Kumanovo region - a quick chronology
Within hours of the resumption of hostilities, the ICRC was on-the-spot to deliver medical assistance to Kumanovo Hospital in case of an arrival of any wounded, and managed to secure a ceasefire from both sides in order to evacuate two seriously wounded elderly men from Slupcane village. Unfortunately, the men had died before the ICRC could reach them. Dressing material was delivered to the local clinic in the village.
A second ceasefire agreement enabled the ICRC again to access Slupcane and deliver further medical supplies to the clinic.
Most people are reluctant to leave their homes either because they fear coming into contact with the Macedonian authorities or because they express a strong sense of solidarity to stay together in their homes. It cannot be excluded, although this was not directly articulated to the ICRC by the villagers, that they are may be under pressure to stay from elements within their community, including from members of the armed groups.
Following the announcement of a ceasefire by the Macedonian authorities, the ICRC made contact with the armed groups in the affected villages who indicated to us again that the civilians still did not wish to leave. Recognising fully the urgency of the humanitarian situation the ICRC will continue to negotiate with both sides in the conflict for the security guarantees which would allow teams to access the villages and respond to the needs of the population. Access to the affected area is also important so that the opportunity can be taken again to request to the armed groups immediate access to those people they are allegedly holding.