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Update no. 98/04 on the activities of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement in response to the crisis in Kosovo

15-06-1998 Operational Update

 Escalating violence triggers outflow of refugees  

With the renewed operations of the Yugoslav security forces against the Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK), the situation in the province of Kosovo has reached new levels of violence. After previous police operations in the Drenica region in March, the Yugoslav government is now deploying heavier military means to tighten control over the Decane/Djakovica/Pec areas close to the Albanian border. Following sustained infiltration by armed UCK elements clashes between the security forces and the insurgents have increased in violence and frequency. The confrontation is affecting more and more people and has triggered a population exodus. Thousands of people, mostly women, children and the elderly, have left their homes and sought refuge elsewhere in Kosovo, and up to 3,000 have crossed into neighbouring Montenegro. Some 10,000 have made the laborious journey across forbidding mountain passes into Albania. Their consistent reports of artillery fire, direct threats to the lives of unarmed civilians and the deliberate destruction of houses convey a disturbing picture of the situation which they have fled.

Diplomatic moves to bring about talks between ethnic Albanian representatives and the Serb government appear to have stalled because of the latest violence, signalling a deeply worrying breakdown in communication.

 ICRC action  

The ICRC is developing its protection and assistance activities, with the following main objectives in mind: to gather as much information as possible about the situation of the thousands of civilians reportedly still trapped in the crisis zone- following up allegations of severe harassment and arrests made - so as to substantiate its representations to the authorities and the insurgents and obtain at least a minimum of respect for the population, whether Albanian or Serb; to enable people affected by the crisis to restore contact with their relatives, both those still in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and those who have settled in other countries, possibly using Albanian-language international radio programmes to broadcast family messages to people remaining in Kosovo; and to form a more accurate picture of medical and assistance needs of the population left in the crisis zone.

 Kosovo  

After repeated representations to the Federal Yugoslav and Serbian authorities in Pristina, Belgrade and in Geneva, on 10 June a team of delegates and interpreters were able to visit the town of Decane, the scene of fighting over the past two weeks which the ICRC had not been allowed to enter (a previous visit to Decane dates back to 19 May).

In Decane, the team found barely any inhabitants and no civilian authorities in charge. Many buildings had been damaged in the recent fighting and there was a heavy police presence. The delegates distributed supplies (food and hygiene parcels, baby parcels, jerrycans, blankets etc.) to the local Red Cross and handed out food provided by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (Federation) or a group of Serb refugees. However, it proved impossible for the team to make direct contact with civilians still living in Decane and to carry out an independent and thorough assessment of the situation in the town and its surroundings. Given the disturbing character of the accounts collected from the people who have fled the area, it is imperative for the ICRC to have unimpeded access to the whole Decane area.

Another ICRC team made a field trip to the Drenica area to assess the situation of internally displaced people in Glogovac and a number of nearby villages and secure the agreement of the authorities with a view to further ICRC activities in the region. The delegates talked to ethnic Albanians and Serbs, distributed some food and hygiene parcels to both and collected Red Cross messages.

 Montenegro  

At present, Montenegro is harbouring about 6,000 displaced people from Kosovo (3,000 since the violent events in March and up to 3,000 new arrivals over the past ten days). However, precise figures are hard to obtain as many of them have no wish to be registered by the authorities. Their most urgent needs are being met by the Montenegro Red Cross (MRC), with continued support from the ICRC, which has a delegate permanently based in Podgorica. At this point, some 2,500 displaced people are being provided with food and hygiene parcels, blankets, kitchenware etc. In addition, delegates are helping the MRC in enabling the displaced to restore familiy links via Red Cross messages.

 Albania  

By 11 June, some 10,000 refugees had arrived in the Bajram Curri and Tropoja areas, in northern Albania. An ICRC team, in place since 2 June, is gathering information from the refugees about the situation in Kosovo and helping the Albanian Red Cross set up a Red Cross message network for the restoration of family links. The ICRC and the Albanian Red Cross are also providing medical assistance. The National Society was the first organization o n the spot to provide relief and has been distributing food, medical and other supplies (clothes, shelter materials etc.), both drawn from reserves in the country and provided by the Federation. To date, about 50 tonnes of food have been distributed, calculated to last the refugees for about 20 days.