Update No. 96/7 on ICRC activities in the former Yugoslavia
17-05-1996 Operational Update
The ICRC is concerned for the future of the 100,000 or so people living in Serb-held Eastern Slavonia, Baranja and Western Sirmium. The beginning of the transitional process in the region has led to considerable uncertainty and fear amongst the population, who want information on issues directly affecting them, such as the amnesty for former combattants, rights to housing and the protection of individual human rights. The challenge for the Croatian and local Serb authorities, as well as for the United Nations Transitional Administration in Eastern Slavonia (UNTAES), is to ensure a smooth transfer of authority - as agreed upon in the Basic Agreement on the Region of Eastern Slavonia, Baranja and Western Sirmium and signed in Erdut on 12 November 1995 - without provoking new large-scale population movements of local Serbs out of the area when the former Croat inhabitants who left in 1991 return. The coming months will be decisive as the transitional process gets under way, and the ICRC's priority during this phase will be to stay in close contact with the population. .
The ICRC has been permanently present in the area since September 1991 and has developed long-standing contacts with civilian and military authorities, the local Red Cross and the population. In early 1996 the sub-delegation was relocated from the town of Dalj to Vukovar , while an additional office was opened in Beli Manastir. In all, five expatriates and over 40 local employees work in the region, some of them in the office in Osijek, on the Croatian side of the former confrontation line. The regional Red Cross branches from both Osijek and Vukovar have provided continual support for the ICRC's work in the area, specifically in the fields of relief distribution, tracing (Red Cross messages and family reunifications) and dissemination. The ICRC has hosted and chaired more than 30 cooperation meetings with Croat and Serb Red Cross representatives in an effort to promote dialogue and strengthen their capacities in a climate of tolerance.
Tracing : family meetings
ICRC Red Cross messages have allowed families to keep in touch throughout the conflict. Since the weapons have now fallen silent along the front lines, families separated for several years by the conflict have been seeking opportunities to meet up with each other again. Since November 1995, a joint ICRC/UNCIVAFF project, carried out with strong support from local Red Cross branches on both sides, has organized 18 family meetings at three check-points along the former front line. Each time, those without transport were bussed to the meeting points by the ICRC and up to 100 family members from each side were able to see each other for the first time since they were separated in 1991 and to spend some time together.
Seeds for the most vulnerable
In order to help the most vulnerable amongst the population to gain some measure of self-sufficiency, the ICRC launched an agricultural programme in March 1996 for the third consecutive year. In eastern Slavonia, 10,000 families recei ved vegetable seed kits, and 10 kilos of seed potatoes and 20 kilos of fertilizer each. A follow-up distribution of preservation kits (sugar, salt and vinegar) will allow beneficiaries to preserve and store some of the food produced during the summer for consumption next winter.
Special assistance to low-income groups
In an ICRC/British Red Cross bilateral programme 12,400 persons with no income or insufficient means (the elderly, the disabled, orphans and single-parent families) have been receiving food and hygiene parcels every second month. In the coming months, 30,000 hygiene kits and 4,000 baby-care kits will be distributed.
The ICRC is maintaining relief stocks in the area so that it can react immediately to unexpected or urgent needs. Additional relief can also be transported in without delay from the main stocks in Belgrade and Zagreb.
Support for medical facilities
The ICRC has been carrying out widespread distributions to health facilities in the area. An ICRC field nurse carries out regular visits to six medical facilities in eastern Slavonia and provides supplies of surgical material and drugs for chronic diseases.
In 1996 the ICRC water and sanitation programme aims to assist the water boards of eight municipalities, in order to prevent their collapse and maintain the existing water supply, treatment and distribution system. This project will ultimately ensure the provision of safe drinking water to some 100,000 people.
In the current transitional phase, the ICRC is continuing to pay regular visits to detainees in Beli Manastir prison, including two people still being held in connection with the conflict. In order to assess the living and security conditions of the civilian population, visits are carried out to remote villages, often close to the former front line, where several thousands of elderly Croats in particular remain. Besides assessing the security conditions, delegates distribute relief assistance and collect or deliver the Red Cross messages by means of which inhabitants keep in touch with their relatives on the other side of the former front lines.
Spreading humanitarian values
At ICRC-organized workshops, volunteers from the Croatian Red Cross and from Red Cross branches in the Vukovar area are shown how humanitarian values, based on Red Cross principles, can be promoted in schools. Most of these people are teachers, who will use their newly acquired interactive skills to introduce the humanitarian message into their teaching programmes. Two workshops for some 30 teachers have already been conducted in the Osijek region; another is planned for Vukovar in June.
Making the people aware of the dangers of mines
In areas where mines are likely to be found, people must be taught how to act in order to minimize the danger to themselves. In a first-phase mine awareness campaign, the ICRC has begun to provide information through media spots and the distribution of posters and leaflets warning people on both sides of the former confrontation line of the dangers. Part two of this programme will begin next July when an ICRC mine awareness advisor will carry out a training course for 35 local Red Cross volunteers in Osijek and Vukovar. The se local mine-awareness instructors will then pass the information on to their own communities so that most of the population at risk receive adequate instruction by the end of 1996.
Spreading awareness of international humanitarian law
The ICRC has informed UNTAES that it is prepared to instruct the joint Croatian/Serb police forces and the UN civilian police contingent in international humanitarian law and human rights. Following a positive response, the practicalities for implementing this will be discussed further with the local authorities and UNTAES.