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Crisis in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Update 15.05.01

15-05-2001 Operational Update

Skopje (ICRC) -   Teams from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) managed again yesterday to secure access to the villages directly affected by the fighting in the Kumanovo region  - the fifth time the organisation has been able to do so since the resumption of hostilities in the area.

During the trip, 110 civilians, mainly women, children and elderly, but no wounded, coming from the villages of Lojane, Vaksince, Lipkovo, Slupcane and Otlja were evacuated by the ICRC to Kumanovo, where they were met by relatives.

Medical supplies were delivered again to Slupcane and Vaksince, as well as to the villages of Lipkovo and OrIzari. Relief items consisting of hygiene and baby parcels were distributed among the villages of Vaksince, Slupcane, Orizari, Lipkovo and Llojane.

Delegates on-the-spot in the most affected villages of Vaksince and Slupcane say the situation continues to deteriorate for the civilians who have been seeking refuge in their cellars now for more than nine days. Some health problems linked to overcrowding, poor hygiene and difficulties in reaching clean water supplies are beginning to emerge among the civilians, although there were no indications that they had reached epidemic levels. Villagers also warned that they were surviving on limited food supplies.

It is impossible to independently verify the number of people who are in these villages whilst they still remain clustered in their basements with little or no contact between them. Whilst there were reports of wounded, it was also difficult to obtain a clear picture on this issue. Apart from the people who agreed to be evacuated, many of the villagers indicated that they were still not willing to leave their shelters. As previously stated, the reasons are multifaceted and cannot be taken in exclusion - either they express a reluctance to come into contact with the Macedonian authorities, or indicate a strong wish to stay together in a spirit of solidarity.

In another important development, the ICRC was once again able to visit the soldier currently held by the ethnic Albanian armed groups, following the first access two days ago. Red Cross messages between him and his family were exchanged and a parcel from his relatives handed over.  Red Cross messages written by the families of the two other civilians also held were handed over for delivery, but unfortunately, the ICRC was not able to visit them despite having repeated the request for access.

The last time the ICRC had visited the area was last Friday when it was able to evacuate around 70 civilians, mainly from Vaksince and bring in medical and relief supplies to Slupcane and Vaksince. Until yesterday, it had been unable to enter the area for two days for security reasons.

Elsewhere, ICRC distributions have been ongoing for people who had been directly affected by the Tetovo events in March. In Kumanovo, the ICRC, along with the Macedonian Red Cross has been carrying out distributions of relief help to displaced people both from the previous events in Crna Gora and to around 1000 newly arrived people, mainly Macedonians and Serbs, from the villages close to the area affected by fighting.