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Update 27.08.01 - Crisis infYROM

27-08-2001 Operational Update

 ICRC Skopje - 27 August 2001  

 Main Operational highlights:  

    

  •  ICRC gains access to and facilitates release of people held by the NLA  

  •  Food distributed in Neprosteno and Lesok to the remaining population  

  •  For the first time, food delivered to civilians in Vaksince and Lojane (Kumanovo region)  

  •  Assessments continue as people return to the villages above Tetovo  

  •  Water distributed in Zilce  

    

    

 Breakthough on the issue of people held by the NLA  

    

Senior representatives, including the ICRC's Head of Delegation in Skopje, Francois Stamm, and the visiting Director of Operations for Europe and the Middle East, Angelo Gnaedinger, met with NLA leader Mr Ali Ahmeti last F riday, August 24, during which they were able to secure from Mr Ahmeti a commitment that ICRC teams would have immediate and unconditional access to all people currently being held by the NLA.

This was followed the next day by the first visit of an ICRC detention team to four people, two members of the armed forces and two civilians, who were being held in the Lipkovo area - the two civilians for almost four months. The visits were conducted according to ICRC's standard working modalities - that is, each detainee was able to talk privately with ICRC delegates to raise any concerns relating to his conditions and treatment and allowed to receive from and write Red Cross messages to their families.

As is standard worldwide practice, any information disclosed to ICRC delegates by detainees is treated confidentially and relayed only to their captors in order both to protect the detainees and ensure continued access.

During the meeting with Mr Ahmeti, the issue of the possible release of those held was also raised. Although the ICRC is not directly involved with any negotiation on liberation in order to preserve its exclusively humanitarian role in the issue, it did offer its services to facilitate the transport of detainees to freedom.

On Sunday, the ICRC was called upon to facilitate the release of eight detainees, two members of the armed forces and the rest civilians who had been held by the NLA - some for almost four months. Four of the group were from the Tetovo area and had been captured and held in the Radusa area - three since the end of June and one since the end of July. The other four were the same group whom the ICRC had visited the previous day. All eight were transported by the ICRC to be reunited with their relatives in Kumanovo and Skopje.

On Monday August 27, the ICRC facilitated a similar release in the Tetovo region of a further seven people. The g roup, all civilians, were transported to the ICRC's office in Tetovo where they were reunited with their families. All 15 people released in the last two days were ethnic Macedonians.

The ICRC welcomes this positive development - not least for the families whose anxiety has understandably increased as time has passed without news of their relatives and with whom the ICRC has constant contact. It reiterates that its first priority is to continue to visit all those held by the NLA. At the same time, it stands ready to facilitate further releases.

The ICRC recently submitted a list of 26 names gathered directly from family members who reported that their relatives had been captured by the NLA. Whilst the NLA were able to quickly confirm that some of the people on the list were in their hands, they said they would come back with information on the rest. The ICRC hopes that for the families sake this information and subsequent access to those who may still be detained is quickly forthcoming.

In a separate, but equally important process, the ICRC is still working on gaining access to people arrested by the Macedonian authorities. During high-level meetings last week with senior government representatives, the ICRC's Director of Operations for Europe and the Middle East, Mr Angelo Gnaedinger, urged the government to allow the ICRC to visit all people detained, regardless of which phase of the judicial process they are in.

The ICRC has an existing agreement with the Macedonian Government which was drawn up before the conflict and only extends to visits of people already sentenced. The ICRC wishes to broaden the scope of the agreement to include those in pre-trial detention. It currently requested official notification from the government on around 100 cases of people reportedly arrested and still held, according to their families.

 Ongoing relief activities  

    

Teams are continuing their daily visits to villages which have been directly affected by fighting and where the resident populations are facing difficulties in getting access to food and other basic commodities whilst their supply lines remain disrupted.

Food assistance was delivered on Wednesday, August 22 directly by the ICRC to the remaining population in Neprosteno and in Lesok. Only around 20 villagers, predominantly frail, elderly people remained behind in Lesok after the rest of the population fled at the end of July. These people are in an especially vulnerable situation, deprived of the support structure usually provided by family and the local community and in some cases fearful of leaving their homes, and the ICRC will continue to closely monitor their situation and respond to needs as necessary.

At the same time, ICRC teams continue to respond to requests to transport people, mainly vulnerable people, from this area to be with their families.

On the same day, food and candles were delivered to the first time by the ICRC to civilians in Vaksince and Lojane, in the Kumanovo region, where civilians are starting to return. Local officials there express concern about shortages linked to their continuing isolation.

Teams are continuing to make extensive tours of the villages above Tetovo, where many people have also recently returned to their homes. Following a recent distribution of food to Sipkovica, the ICRC will continue to respond to any emerging humanitarian needs in this area.

On Thursday, August 23, the ICRC returned to Zilce to provide a further 14,000 litres of fresh water to the village, which has been suffering from a recent water shortage because of the lack of rainfall. The sto rage tank for the village has been provided by the Macedonian Red Cross.

    

 * The ICRC is leading the Red Cross Movement response to the conflict in fYROM, supported by the Macedonian Red Cross who register and help distribute relief which is provided by the ICRC, with occasional donations from national Red Cross societies. The International Federation of Red Cross/Red Crescent Societies supports and strengthens the MRC and provides logistical and occasional material support to the present operation.  

    

 At the same time, the ICRC has a specific and exclusive role in assisting and protecting people in the directly affected villages and in supporting medical structures with supplies for treating war-wounded as well as in reuniting separated families, following up on cases of people unaccounted for, and in visiting people arrested or held.