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Update 19.09.01 - Crisis in fYROM

19-09-2001 Operational Update

 ICRC Skopje - 19.09.01  

    

 Main operational highlights:  

    

  •  Relief programme to isolated communities ongoing  

  •  For the first time, relief taken to Lukovica  

  •  UXO/mine programme continues  

  •  Efforts to gain access to detainees held by the Macedonian authorities ongoing  

    

    

 Relief programmes adapts to evolving humanitarian situation  

    

The ICRC is in the process shifting its relief strategy in order to complement the evolving situation in the country. Following discussions with the Macedonian Red Cross and the Macedonian government, the ICRC has decided to stop the registration and subsequent assistance for newly displaced. This is a reflection of the ICRC's assessment that as the fighting has recently came to a halt, there is no subsequent displacement of people who are fleeing their homes as a direct result of hostilities.

Instead, the ICRC's relief policy will now focus on a needs-based rather than a blanket geographical approach (in which all displaced from certain directly affected villages are automatically eligible for assistance). All those already registered will continue to receive assistance, either from the ICRC, or, in the case of longer-term displaced, from Intersos/ECHO. Meanwhile, anyone able to prove that they are newly displaced as a result of damaged housing, physical threats or lack of local access will be considered for registration on an individual assessment basis.

The ICRC continues to constantly monitor and respond with relief to emerging humanitarian needs among the thousands of both ethnic Macedonian and ethnic Albanian residents in directly affected villages who still experience difficulties in getting access to basic material commodities or state support due to the lack of freedom of movement in directly affected villages. This is because civilians are still fearful either of coming into contact with the NLA or the Macedonian forces respectively and is a phenomenon which is a continuing concern for the ICRC.

In recent weeks, ICRC teams have been touring in the Tetovo-Jazince areas, the hills above Tetovo, and the Kumanovo region, with a dual relief/protection purpose. While the main purpose is to assist civilians with relief assistance, the presence of ICRC teams in the area is also a reassuring factor for people, especially the most isolated and therefore vulnerable.

In recent days, assessments or distributions have been conducted in the areas of Tearce, Dzepicste, Aracinovo, Jegunovce, Sipkovica and Zelino, where for the first time ICRC teams accessed the remote village of Lukovica i n order to bring food and hygiene supplies to the around 50 ethnic Macedonian residents who had been cut off for some months due to the recent presence of NLA in the area.

The ICRC wishes to stress that its humanitarian response should not be perceived in any way as encouraging a return of people to their homes. On the contrary, it remains concerned that the security environment in many areas, notably the volatile Tetovo-Jazince area, is still not conducive for families to return to their homes in complete safety. Voluntary returnees will be considered as part of the resident population and assisted according to needs.

The commitment to continue to assist people still housed in temporary collective centres is ongoing. ICRC teams are regularly visiting collective centres in order to keep progress on developments there and maintain an important dialogue with the displaced, as well as supplying the regular relief assistance.

 UXO/Mines Programme  

    

The ICRC UXO/mine awareness teams have begun to travel to directly affected areas in order to solicit support for the programme from community leaders. Visits were conducted in the Tetovo area (Sipkovica and surrounding villages) as well in Lipkovo and Aracinovo. Local leaders responded extremely positively to the programme and promised full cooperation in identifying people within the communities to be trained by the ICRC and in distributing and promoting the brochures and leaflets produced by the ICRC in Skopje.

Community leaders and civilians all expressed that the programme is particularly pertinent for children. A special brochure aimed at young children is in the process of being tested at field level and will shortly be ready for general distribution.

In cooperation with the Macedonian Red Cross, which is also providing important manpower support for the programme, the first presentations were made to the displaced people in collective centres in Skopje in order to alert them to the possible dangers they face when they return home to their villages.

More than 200 people attended the presentations in the collective centres of Ranka Milanovic, Stim Namov and Senic. The ICRC aims in the coming weeks to visit all the 8000 displaced people currently hosted in temporary collective centres.

The ICRC decided to launch the programme following a recent assessment mission conducted by its regional mines awareness coordinator. He discovered that there was a significant problem of unexploded ordnance scattered around villages which had been directly affected by the fighting between Macedonian security forces and the NLA. Whilst no firm evidence has yet emerged of the existence of anti-personnel mines, this cannot be entirely excluded.

In order not to generate unnecessary alarm among the general population, the ICRC has developed a strategy of targeting those populations (resident and displaced) most at risk from the threat of UXO/mines rather than a blanket approach to the public. A series of presentations have already been conducted in both villages directly affected and in the collective centres housing displaced from those areas, complemented by a leaflet/poster campaign. At the same time, the ICRC's expert mines awareness instructors from neighbouring operations in the Balkans have been employed to conduct training for ICRC/Macedonian Red Cross personnel and local community officials.

 Efforts continue to gain access to people arrested and detained by the Macedonian authorities  

    

Despite several representations to the highest levels within the Macedonian Government, the ICRC has still not been granted permission to visit all people detained in relation to the conflict.

The ICRC regrets this lack of access which prevents it from performing its important humanitarian function in this issue which is to ensure that people detained and held in relation to a conflict are treated humanely, according to the provisions laid out in international humanitarian law, notably Article 3 common to the four Geneva Conventions.

The Macedonian authorities signed an agreement with the ICRC in February granting its delegates the right to visit sentenced prisoners in the country. However, with the beginning of the conflict, the ICRC immediately requested that the government broaden the scope of the agreement to include people held in pre-trial detention.

The role of ICRC's detention work is exclusively humanitarian: that is to allow each detainee to talk privately with an ICRC delegate about any problems he/she may have relating to conditions and treatment so any concerns can be discussed confidentially with the detaining authorities.

The Macedonian authorities have officially notified many of the cases for which the ICRC has requested information, but full and unconditional access has still not been granted. The ICRC will continue with its dialogue at the highest level as a matter of urgency.

 * The ICRC is leading the Red Cross Movement response to the conflict in fYROM, supported by the Macedonian Red Cross who register and help distribute relief which is provided by the ICRC, with occasional donations from national Red Cross societies. The International Federation of Red Cross/Red Crescent Societies supports and strengthens the MRC and provides logistical and occasional material support to the present operation.  

    

 At the same time, the ICRC has a specific and exclusive role in assisting and protecting people in the directly affected villages and in supporting medical structures with supplies for treating war-wounded as well as in reuniting separated families, following up on cases of people unaccounted for, and in visiting people arrested or held.