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Crisis in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Update 27.03.01Red Cross/Red Crescent response

27-03-2001 Operational Update

 From ICRC SKOPJE  

The fighting in the Tetovo region has triggered mounting concern in the ICRC about the plight of civilians inside the town and in the surrounding villages.

Thousands of civilians are reportedly still trapped in the villages surrounding Tetovo, the scene over the weekend of fighting. It is becoming increasingly important for the ICRC to travel to these villages to assess and respond to any humanitarian needs, particularly regarding the medical situation. Several attempts over the last week by the ICRC to reach the affected area have been unsuccessful for security reasons, but efforts continue. However, first assessments could be made for newly displaced who arrived on Sunday in the village of Dzepciste, close to Tetovo.

At the same time, daily life for the population who remain in Tetovo has been seriously disrupted because of the ongoing fighting. Delegates who are based in the town say the streets are noticeably quieter, with many shops now closed, although there are food shops still open. It is very difficult to estimate how many people are left in the town as many could be simply staying indoors for safety. On Monday, there were some signs of life on the street, but the atmosphere is still understandably tense. Locals in the community say commercial activities as well as schooling have become disrupted in previous days.

These latest developments prompted the ICRC on 25.03.01 to issue a public statement appealing for respect of international humanitarian law (IHL), notably Article 3 common to the Geneva Conventions which obliges all those taking part i n fighting to spare and protect the civilian population, and all those no longer involved in hostilities, including the wounded and anybody arrested or captured.

The ICRC's Delegate General for Europe, Angelo Gnaedinger, was in Skopje on Sunday to meet with high-level representatives in the Macedonian Government, including the Deputy Chief of Staff. Assurances were given, he said following his meetings, that all will be done to implement the provisions of international humanitarian law.

 ICRC led Red Cross/Red Crescent response  

    

Following a request from the Director of Tetovo Hospital on Sunday, the ICRC immediately gave a supply of basic dressing and other medical equipment. Although the number of people wounded and treated at the hospital remain relatively low, the Director felt it was necessary to prepare for a possible increase in wounded.

Despite various unconfirmed reports that there could be wounded remaining in the affected villages, the ICRC has been unable to independently verify these reports without access to this area.

Meanwhile, distributions of food and non-food assistance has now been delivered by the ICRC to all the Macedonian Red Cross branches in the country where displaced people have registered.
 
The current total of registered displaced is around 20,000 of which around 13,000 are in Skopje. It is difficult to know exactly when these people left but it is believed the majority fled in the first wave as the fighting began in Tetovo and the Crna Gora regions last week. Most are in host families, and whilst the Macedonian Government has identified a number of potential collective sites, these have so far not been needed. V irtually all of the current registered displaced population will have now received assistance.
 
The ICRC operation for the displaced is performed with support from Macedonian Red Cross and the International Federation. All displaced receive a 10 kilo parcel of food with other emergency items such as blankets, mattresses and cooking sets given upon request. The package is designed to last one month. Macedonian Red Cross branches around the country have been stocked with relief supplies and distributions have begun. A number of the branches are under considerable pressure such as the town of Debar, close to the Albanian border, which today (Tuesday) was reporting over a thousand displaced asking for help. The International Federation is providing assistance to the branches, and a field delegate was in Debar this morning.
 
It still remains difficult to accurately estimate the evolution of events from a humanitarian perspective whilst the situation continues to be volatile, although one cannot still talk of a large-scale humanitarian crisis. As well as reacting to immediate needs, the ICRC has been planning and developing mechanisms to enable it to develop to all possible scenarios. These include guiding the rest of the Red Cross/Red Crescent Movement on any possible participation in the future.
 

 Kosovo refugees among the displaced  
 

Refugees from Kosovo who had found shelter in Tetovo have been forced to flee fighting for a second time. More than 120 of them registered with the Macedonian Red Cross and are now in Skopje, 74 of them staying with host families and 49 in a collective centre where 1,243 Kosovars are already living.
 
A special distribution for displaced refugees in private accommodation began in the Skopje Red Cross warehouse on Monday and will continue through March 31. They will be supplied with food and hygiene parcels and blankets and mattresses. Today in the same location a Spanish NGO will distribute fresh food to them. Displaced refugees who have gone to the collective centre will receive assistance through normal centre routines.

Ref. LG 2001-017-ENG