Update 04.10.01 - Crisis in fYROM
04-10-2001 Operational Update
ICRC Skopje - 04.10.01
Main operational highlights:
Distributions to more than 3000 people in collective centres
Distributions in Zilce, Semsevo, Ratae, Aracinovo and Selce
UXO programme - all affected villages now visited
Meeting with Mr Ali Ahmeti to raise the issue of missing ethnic Macedonians
List of missing ethnic Albanians submitted to Macedonian authorities
In the last week, distributions have been ongoing to collective centres for more than 3,000 people still accommodating displaced people, as well as to more than 8,500 resident population. In Selce, three trucks of food was distributed for the first time to the population who have recently retu rned from Kosovo. Local officials stressed that they had particular concerns about being able to stock up for winter, which is traditionally a difficult time as the village is cut off by snowfall for several months. Meanwhile, distributions were also carried out on Wednesday to Zilce, Semsevo and Ratae to both ethnic Macedonian and ethnic Albanian communities.
In the last month alone, more than 100,000 people in the FYROM have benefited from relief help from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
The relief, which consists of food parcels, wheat flour (which is bought from local Macedonian suppliers), hygiene and baby parcels, is aimed at helping both resident civilians in isolated villages where supply lines remain disrupted and the internally displaced population - which today is almost equally divided between ethnic Macedonians and ethnic Albanians.
The ICRC is particularly concerned by the ongoing problems of lack of freedom of movement in villages which have been directly affected by the fighting. Either because of the continuing presence of police/army checkpoints or the threat of the presence of the NLA, many civilians of both communities are afraid to move around, and supplies of essential items such as food, medicines, salaries and pensions are still having difficulties reaching them.
Whilst there have been some improvements observed in the Tetovo area, the ICRC is committed to assisting people deprived of their usual coping structures as a result of their continuing isolation and hopes that all efforts are employed in the near future by the authorities to ease the problems of free movement which is the major root cause of the present humanitarian problems for resident populations.
The ICRC has maintained a daily presence in the crisis regions in order to respond quickly to emerging needs - more than 50,000 vulnerable people among the res ident population have received food and other items this month alone - but also to provide an important reassuring factor to people who are living in fear. This is especially so for the small number of isolated elderly ethnic Macedonians in villages in the Tetovo area such as Lesok and Neprosteno, where the ICRC had been the only international organisation to bring relief help and provide the small community with the means to keep in touch with their relatives by mobile phone.
Because of the prevailing problems in terms of security and isolation, the ICRC remains concerned that the conditions are still not conducive for a safe return for displaced people who originate from villages which were directly affected by the fighting.
A consignment of food donated from the Turkish Red Crescent Society arrived at the ICRC Skopje warehouse this week and will shortly be distributed.
UXO/Mines awareness programme - all affected villages now reached
ICRC teams have now visited all local officials of villages which were directly affected by the fighting and are therefore most affected by the UXO/mine threat. The aim of this first phase is to solicit their support in identifying people from the community to be trained by ICRC experts in raising awareness among their neighbours about the ongoing risks. At the same time leaflets and posters were handed over to be distributed among the villages.
In parallel, the teams continue to visit collective centres hosting displaced people to conduct presentations alerting the public to the UXO/mine threat.
The leaflet aimed at young children - featuring a cartoon character based on the famous " Shara " dog which originates from the country - has now been printed after a series of field-tests and distributions of this leaflet will begin this week.
So far there is no documented evidence of the laying of antipersonnel mines in the FYROM in conflict areas. Although this cannot be entirely excluded, the real danger to the population comes from the significant amount of unexploded ordnance scattered in the villages directly affected by the fighting. The existence of antitank mines is known, but this is a lesser threat as their locations are known and controlled and they can easily be removed when deemed no longer strategically important from a military viewpoint. They also pose a lesser threat to the population as they are precisely designed to explode when rolled over by a heavy weight.
The present programme, which is also supported by the Macedonian Red Cross, is therefore mainly focused on the threat of unexploded ordnance precisely because of the haphazard way in which the debris is scattered around the countryside - often in close proximity to civilian property and because the scraps of metal are often concealed, can look harmless, but can cause major injury and even death if touched or moved.
People unaccounted for as a result of the conflict
Through its regular contacts with the families of people still unaccounted for as a result of the conflict, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is more aware than most of the growing desperation of those anxious to learn the fate of their relatives.
It reiterates its commitment as an absolute priority to do what it can to gather any inform ation which may shed light on the fate of the people, both ethnic Macedonian and ethnic Albanian, for whom there is still no information as to their fate. The ICRC initiated a meeting last Friday with Mr Ali Ahmeti, leader of the NLA , and at the same time submitted a list of ethnic Albanians (allegedly arrested but with no information as to their precise whereabouts) to the Macedonian authorities, with the request to both sides that they provide any information they can.
In order to have a credible, concrete approach, the ICRC insists on working directly with the concerned sides, whose ultimate responsibility it is to provide any information they may possess about the fate of people who went missing during a conflict. It cannot, for instance, without prior notice, begin to " search " for possible hidden detainees. This is because the ICRC believes that this sort of action would only serve to jeopardise any dialogue between those who it believes could provide answers.
Experience in this issue, gleaned over decades, shows that the process of discovering the truth can unfortunately be a long one. Whilst the ICRC is absolutely committed to working for the families in their quest to have answers, which is their basic fundamental right, it stresses that any " success " is entirely dependent on the willingness of the sides to offer information they may have.
* The ICRC is leading the Red Cross Movement response to the conflict in the 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