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Update No. 96/5 on ICRC activities in the former Yugoslavia

19-03-1996 Operational Update

 Exodus from Sarajevo  

With the official announcement on 18 February that authority over the Bosnian Serb held suburbs of Sarajevo would be transferred to the Bosnian Federation on 23 February - earlier than expected - a wave of panic and despair swept through the resident populations. The Serb inhabitants immediately started to leave. The three municipalities of Vogosca, Ilijas and Hadzici are now almost deserted; thousands of people are on the move towards towns and villages in eastern Bosnia which will remain under Republika Srpska authority: places such as Brcko, Bratunac, Srebrenica, Vlasenica, Visegrad, Zvornik, Foca and Trebinje. Several days of temperatures below 0° Celsius made conditions very hard for those with few resources, travelling on foot and unable even to take their belongings with them.

 Conditions of the displaced arriving in eastern Bosnia  

Furthermore, the locations towards which these people are fleeing do not have adequate housing for them. Some people, fearing the worst, moved their belongings several weeks prior to the expected dead-line and found accommodation ahead of time. The early arrivals are usually accommodated with local families or in abandoned, often partly destroyed houses. The stragglers, generally arriving in bad condition, can only find room in the collective centres set up in schools or other public buildings and most of these are not adequately equipped to shelter anything up to 1,000 people. The population of some towns, already on the increase last autumn following the arrival of people from western Bosnia, has now more than doubled; and more newcomers are still expected.

 Conditions in the suburbs of Sarajevo  

Very few Serbs remain in the suburbs of Sarajevo: most of them are elderly, some still intend to leave. The first Bosnians and Bosnian Croats have started moving in from the Bosnian-held parts of Sarajevo and the surrounding areas. The transfer of administrative authority took place relatively smoothly in the suburbs of Vogosca and Ilijas. However, the situation in Hadzici, Ilidza and Grbavica is causing serious concern for the security of the population; the current circumstances, both before and after the transfer of authority are of total lawlessness: gangs and individuals on both sides are looting and burning houses and harassing the inhabitants.

In spite of all the promises to ensure their safety, and the presence of Federation police monitored by the IPTF, the people who decided to stay were the first victims of their Serb neighbours on the leave. They were then victims of their former Bosnian neighbours, expelled in 1992 and now taking their revenge. The fear of violent reprisals may very well trigger a further 2,000 to 3,000 people who remained in Ilidza to leave.

 Ensuring conditions for returnees  

The ICRC deplores the fact that, in spite of all commitments, the attempt to carry out a calm and organized transition of authority of the suburbs of Sarajevo has failed. Most of the Serb population has left, and those remaining are under the constant threat of violence. At this stage, international and national authorities need to ensure that those who left, fearing for their immediate security but with no intention of definitely resettling elsewhere, do not find on t heir return that their temporarily evacuated houses have been appropriated by newcomers settling new in houses they do not own. The elections and the creation of a Commission for Displaced Persons and Refugees (as stipulated in Annex 7, VII, of the Peace Agreement), with a mandate to receive and decide any claims on real property, should create proper conditions under which displaced or expelled people may decide whether or not to come back.

 ICRC action  

With a delegation in Sarajevo centre and four offices in the suburbs of Vogosca, Ilidza, Grbavica and Hrasnica, the ICRC has maintained a permanent presence in the Sarajevo urban area over for the last four years. Thus it has developed contacts with the civilian and military authorities in the area and implemented programmes for the population on both sides of the city. It has provided medical structures with medicines, water boards with spare parts and water disinfecting chemicals and has run kitchens and food distribution programmes. In addition, further public kitchen and school snacks programmes, maintenance of the water distribution networks and gas heating have been carried out in cooperation with participating National Societies from other countries.

Population movements have long been expected and the ICRC has kept a close watch on the situation. So as not to influence the population in its decision to move, it unobtrusively restocked its contingency relief supplies in the area, so as to be able to react immediately should the situation require it. As people started to leave the Sarajevo suburbs, ICRC took the following steps.

 In the suburbs it:  

- carried out frequent and regular surveys of all hospitals and medical centres and provided the necessar y basic assistance to the new medical authorities, as much of the medical infrastructure had broken down following the disappearance of many of the Serb personnel and much of the stock. With the help of the ICRC, those Serb doctors remaining in Ilidza were smoothly integrated into the new medical structure. During the period when no ambulances were available, delegates helped transfer some serious medical cases which could not be treated on the spot to nearby hospitals;

- sent in water and sanitation engineers to survey the area and identify any possible problems (eg. the water supply network was dismantled in Vogosca; in Ilijas the water treatment station was dismantled and deprived of chlorinators). The ICRC distributed emergency materials, such as jerricans and water bladders, so that people would have a minimum supply of safe drinking water until the water supply network had been rehabilitated; and provided basic material (pipes and chlorinators) and technical assistance to the newly-installed water authority for this;

- continued, in a joint programme with the German Red Cross, to supply and run the public kitchens in the suburbs for the remaining population; and set up mobile kitchens to provide hot meals for vulnerable people. The remaining population will be assisted with 5'000 individual food parcels, 2'500 hygiene kits and canned vegetables;

- kept all 4 ICRC offices open to receive people and maintain direct contact with the population for assistance, tracing and protection purposes. An additional office will be opened in the municipality of Lukavica.

 In the host towns:  

- the ICRC immediately distributed 9,000 food parcels and 15'000 meals ready to eat, 650 kitchen sets, 13,000 hygiene kits, 2,500 blankets, 30,000 pieces of second hand clothing, 200 stoves and 800 jerricans; ove r the next three weeks the ICRC plans to distribute 25,000 food parcels, 20,000 blankets, 1,000 stoves, 50,000 pairs of shoes for children and women, 20 pallets of new clothing; candles and plastic sheeting to approximately 25'000 families;

- the quantity of essential drugs for chronic diseases and surgical material distributed every month to medical facilities in the area was increased; 

- sanitation and plumbing for a new home for the elderly in Lukavica was installed. Where displaced people were accommodated ICRC water and sanitation engineers keep in touch with local authorities and is now providing materials to ensure an adequate supply of clean water, paying special attention to improvised collective centres which are not equipped to deal with that problem;

- the ICRC will continue to carry out assessments of the situation in order to meet any additional needs which might appear, especially in the municipalities of Bratunac (25,000 persons: of whom 15,000 are displaced) and Srebrenica (10,000 displaced from Western Bosnia and 2,500 from Sarajevo) where there are no other humanitarian organizations in the field.

 Tracing the missing  

In order to make progress in tracing persons unaccounted for and informing the families accordingly, as stipulated in Annex 7, article V of the Peace Agreement (wherein the parties shall provide information through the tracing mechanisms of the ICRC), representatives of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and of the Republika Srpska met on 1 March in the High Representative's offices in Sarajevo, in order to discuss the proposed framework for a Working Group to tackle that question. During this ICRC-chaired meeting, significant progress was made in defining a set of rules and procedures for locating these missing people, which should be adopted during the next session of the Working Group.

It should be emphasized that it is the responsibility of other international bodies to identify the parties and individuals legally responsible for deaths or disappearances and to gather evidence in this regard .With a view to avoiding duplications, gaps or conflicts of interest amongst the different international bodies which, pursuing different objectives , are dealing with the question of missing persons, the ICRC has consulted with the institutions concerned and to this end is maintaining regular contacts with the UN Special Rapporteur, the UN Commission for Human Rights Expert on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances in the Former Yugoslavia, the office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal, the High Representative and others.

In the field, ICRC teams are re-interviewing the families of the 8,000 men unaccounted for following the events in Srebrenica last year, in order to confirm and to gather additional information necessary to help ascertain their fate.

 Release of the detainees  

Under the Peace Agreement some 800 detainees held in relation to the conflict were released under ICRC auspices.

On 18 February, at the meeting held in Rome to discuss the parties'compliance with the provisions in the Peace Agreement, Presidents Izetbegovic, Milosevic and Tudjman confirmed that all people held in relation to the conflict shall be promptly released. There are nonetheless today some 200 people registered by the ICRC still being held by the parties. The ICRC continued to visit and register them and assess their conditions of detention. Among them some 50 detainees were visited for the first time in the Military Jail of Tuzla on 26 February.

Amongst the 200 odd not yet released prisoners, some 60 have been declared by the detaining parties as being held on the basis of suspected war crimes. The parties have to verify the cogency of such detention, which according to the procedure confirmed in Dayton should have been submitted to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. Furthermore the ICRC is not aware of any progress of national proceedings against these persons. The ICRC thus calls on the parties to clarify the judicial situation of the prisoners retained for further investigation into alleged war crimes and to proceed with the immediate and unconditional release and transfer of the remaining prisoners.