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Former Yugoslavia: assistance and protection, ICRC president on mission

09-08-1995 News Release 32

Following the arrival in the Banja Luka region of a great wave of Serb refugees from Krajina, ICRC delegates have worked to meet pressing needs in an extremely tense atmosphere.

The ICRC is concerned by the presence of a large number of armed Serb soldiers among the refugees. Many people belonging to the Croat and Muslim minority groups in the Banja Luka area are reported to have been forced out of their homes by the new arrivals. The ICRC has asked the local authorities to ensure their protection and is in touch with representatives of the affected groups. The ICRC has also informed the Croatian Government of its concern about the plight of tens of thousands people trapped in northern Krajina, near the border town of Dvor, where military operations are in progress.

In order to ensure the delivery of relief supplies for the refugees and to obtain guarantees from the various authorities concerned that all vulnerable persons (those detained or belonging to one of the minorities), ICRC President Cornelio Sommaruga set out on 7 August for a one-week visit to the region.

Upon arrival of the first refugees in Banja Luka, the ICRC began distributing food, sanitary supplies and materials for building temporary shelters. It also organized community kitchens and the distribution of drinking water in public places and stepped up its medical assistance to hospitals in the region. Finally,  delegates are distributing food and water by the sides of the roads along which there is an uninterrupted flow of people and vehicles.

The relief supplies that had been stocked in Banja Luka before the fighting will suffice to meet the needs for several da ys only. The ICRC therefore intends to organize an airlift to that part of Bosnia and has received permission for this from all the authorities concerned as well as from the United Nations Sanctions Committee, which supervises implementation of the embargo. The first relief plane is due to land in Banja Luka on 9 August.

In the Krajina town of Knin, the scene of recent military operations, the local ICRC team responded to urgent appeals for assistance from the Croatian authorities and from the United Nations delegation, trapped in its compound with a number of wounded and refugees, and immediately began to tour the streets with enough supplies to treat 300 casualties.

Finally, the Croatian authorities have committed themselves to allowing the ICRC to visit the prisoners of war captured during the present offensive.