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The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia: Civilians aided amid fighting

17-05-2001 News Release 01/19

Delegates have evacuated a further 37 persons – mainly elderly, women and children – from Lipkovo, where many residents of other villages affected by armed clashes have sought safety. Though itself so far spared by the violence, Lipkovo is in an area recently rocked by fighting between Macedonian forces and ethnic Albanian armed groups. This operation, on 15 May, brought to over 200 the number of people evacuated by the ICRC since hostilities resumed nearly two weeks ago.

This was the sixth such operation carried out by the ICRC, currently the only international humanitarian organization working in the area. Staff also evacuated eight civilians handed over by members of the ethnic Albanian armed groups who had been holding them.

At the beginning of the week, the ICRC succeeded in making a second visit to a soldier from the Macedonian forces who is being held by the armed groups. It facilitated the exchange of Red Cross messages (i.e. containing personal news) between him and his family and forwarded a parcel from his relatives. The organization also received for forwarding Red Cross messages from the two other people being held by the groups, and hopes that its request for access to them will soon be granted.

The ICRC remains extremely concerned about the plight of possibly thousands of people who remain trapped in their houses in the worst-affected villages of Slupcane and Vaksince.  Those residents visited by ICRC staff say that their situation is growing steadily more difficult: health problems due to overcrowded conditions and poor hygiene are beginning to emerge, and many report a water shortage. Food is also running out. The ICRC will continue offering civi lians the opportunity to leave, and meet the most pressing needs by distributing medicines and other relief supplies.