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Update No. 96/2 on ICRC activities in the former Yugoslavia

11-01-1996 Operational Update No 2

 Operation for the release of detainees  

The ICRC has been conducting intensive negotiations to arrange for the release of all detainees held by the parties to the conflict in Bosnia-Herzegovina, as provided for under the peace agreement (Article IX, Annex 1) recently signed in Paris.

On 4 January 1996, within the framework of the Joint Military Commission (JMC) chaired by the Implementation Force (IFOR) at Sarajevo airport, the parties met and submitted lists of the detainees they were holding to each other, the ICRC, IFOR and the High Representative.

On the basis of those lists, the ICRC drew up a plan for the release and transfer of the detainees, in close consultation with all the parties and with IFOR. During that process, ICRC delegates continued to visit places of detention on all sides in order to have a fully up-to-date view of the detention situation in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Moreover, the lists submitted by the parties on 4 January were examined in the light of information gathered by ICRC delegates in various places of detention.

On 8 January, a second meeting concerning the release of detainees was held within the framework of the JMC. The plan drawn up by the ICRC, which was submitted at that meeting, stipulated the following:

- the ICRC is to have unimpeded access to all places of detention and to all prisoners for the pu rpose of determining through private interviews the onward destination of each of them;

- the release of some 900 (60 per cent held by the Muslim-Croat Federation, 40 per cent by the Bosnian Serbs) prisoners is to take place on 15 and 16 January 1996;

- the prisoners concerned are all those already notified by the parties on 4 January 1996; all other prisoners registered by the ICRC in detention places are to be subsequently added.

This plan was accepted by the representatives of both the HVO (Croatian Defence Council) and the Bosnian Serb authorities. However, the Bosnian government representative set various conditions to his signing. Contacts are currently continuing with a view to ensuring that all detainees will be released within the agreed time frame (no later than 19 January, i.e. within 30 days of the transfer of authority between UNPROFOR and IFOR).

 The issue of missing persons  

The main objection raised by the Bosnian government to the release operation is the lack of information concerning the fate of thousands of men arrested in August 1995 in Srebrenica. The ICRC shares the Bosnian government's concern over this grievous issue and has continuously endeavoured to shed light on it. Indeed, once the parties have honoured their commitment to release all persons held in relation with the conflict by 19 January, active efforts will have to be made to search for those persons who still have not been accounted for. The ICRC is therefore convinced that the rapid release of all detainees will help to ensure that the issue of missing persons is dealt with more effectively. 

 Sarajevo: permanent presence of the ICRC on the Bosnian Serb side  

The uncertain future of the Serb population living in the Serb-held suburbs of Sarajevo (such as Ilidza, Vogosca and Hadzici) is becoming a major humanitarian issue. The ICRC representative on the spot has been informed by local contacts that dozens of thousands of inhabitants might leave their homes and move to neighbouring areas which are to stay under Serb control. On 9 January it was reported that some people had already started to leave Ilidza for Dobrinja and that a few of them had even set fire to their homes before going. The ICRC is concerned about the consequences of these displacements, especially in view of the winter conditions and lack of appropriate facilities. An ICRC delegate permanently based in Ilidza is keeping in constant contact with the population and the authorities on the spot to assess the situation from day to day. The ICRC also has stocks of emergency supplies nearby, which will enable it to react promptly to any urgent need for food, non food, medical or sanitary items.

In addition to its delegation in Sarajevo, which covers the entire urban area on both sides, the ICRC has three offices in Serb-held parts of the city (Ilidza, Vogosca and Grbavica), with one expatriate based in Ilidza and six local employees for the three offices. The German Red Cross is running a community kitchen programme, which covers 3,000 people in the Serb-held parts of the city, and a school snack programme for 46,000 primary schoolchildren, including those living in Serb areas. For more than two years, the Netherlands Red Cross has been running a gas heating programme in all parts of the city. In addition, water and sanitation programmes are being carried out to provide the entire population with a minimum supply of clean water.

 ICRC presence in Mostar  

Tension has risen between Muslims and Croats in Mostar in anticipation of the full implementation, in accordance with the provisions of the peace agreement, of freedom of movement for everyone (including men of fighting age) between the two parts of the city.

The ICRC has maintained a permanent presence in Mostar since the outbreak of the conflict in Bosnia-Herzegovina and has been in contact with the authorities on the both sides. It currently has four expatriates and 25 local employees in two offices situated on either side of the Neretva river.

 Croatia: amnesty and release of 451 detainees  

On 31 December 1995, 451 Serb detainees were released under an amnesty issued by the government of the Republic of Croatia. The detainees had been captured in August 1995

during the military operation in the former Sectors North and South.

About 350 of those released were transferred to the Gasinci refugee camp near Osijek, while the others joined their families living in Croatia. From 3 to 5 January, ICRC delegates conducted private interviews with those in the camp to ascertain whether they wished to stay in Croatia or be transferred to the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY). The ICRC also arranged for them to contact their families, either in Croatia or in the FRY, to help them make the decision. Twenty former detainees who chose to return to Vojnic and Knin were transferred by the ICRC on 11 January, a nd two other groups are to be taken to the FRY by the end of the week.