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Former Yugoslavia: after the storm

08-08-1996 News Release 96/31

One year after " Operation Storm " 74-year-old Slana Djujic had heard nothing from her family, who had fled along with more than 150,000 other people when the Croatian forces launched their offensive on former Sectors North and South.

Then, last week, a tracing delegate working out of the ICRC sub-delegation in Vojnic had news for her at last. A Red Cross message had come from her daughter Nadia, now living in Serbia, and finally, after twelve lonely and anxious months, she learned that her family were safe and together.

Slana's sense of isolation is compounded by the fact that she, like many other elderly Serbs left behind after the offensive, is now living alone in a remote village, barely able to fend for herself now that the support once offered by the community around her has disappeared. She also admits to living in constant fear of becoming a target of the violence, which unfortunately is still rife in the region.

Today, the plight of the " forgotten people " of Former Sectors North and South is one of the most crucial humanitarian issues faced by the ICRC in the former Yugoslavia. Over the past year, the mobile relief and protection teams regularly touring the towns and 600 remote villages in the region have identified around 3,500 elderly people who are most at risk; these are people plunged into misery because they were too ill or frail to make the journey with those who fled or simply did not want to leave their homes to face an uncertain future.

The combination of continuing security problems and the threat of further hardship when winter comes has prompted the ICRC this week to call upon the Croatian government to take firm steps to impro ve the overall security situation in the area, not only to protect the vulnerable but also to create a climate which will encourage their families to return and provide the care and support that their older relatives so desperately need.