Update No. 98/05 on the activities of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement in response to the crisis in Kosovo
26-06-1998 Operational Update
Access to the confrontation zone improves
In a joint statement issued after talks with the President of the Russian Federation, Boris Yeltsin, in Moscow on 16 June Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic expressed amongst other issues, the readiness of the Yugoslav authorities to ensure that no repressive measures would be taken against the civilian population, that the return of all refugees and internally displaced persons would be encouraged and unhindered, and that the State would provide the necessary assistance to rebuild houses damaged as a result of the fighting. The statement underlined the importance of granting unimpeded access to humanitarian organizations, namely the ICRC and the UNHCR, enabling them to respond to the needs of the people affected, and guaranteed the unobstructed distribution of humanitarian assistance across the territory of Kosovo.
Following sustained representations by the ICRC to the Yugoslav authorities, access to areas affected by the confrontation has improved significantly. Owing to the nature of the confrontation, however, working conditions for the delegates are difficult and dangerous. Usually there is no clear front line nor, in many areas, any identifiable control by either the Serb forces or the insurgents.
ICRC activities to assist the affected population
As a result of the violence, many people from both Serb and ethnic Albanian communities have been cut off or separated from their families with no means of communication. On the other hand, thousands of peop le have been displaced, either within the confrontation area itself (i.e. in and around Decane and Drenica), to other areas in Kosovo or to Montenegro where more than 10,000 people were registered. Some 13,000 people have fled across the border to seek refuge in northern Albania. As many of these people, particularly in Kosovo, have been given shelter by relatives not all of them have been officially registered, making it very difficult to gauge exact numbers. In response, the ICRC has kept up a constant round of field trips throughout the territory in order to gather information at all levels and develop its assistance plan accordingly.
Missions to Decane
Delegates began visiting the Decane area of Kosovo last weekend to look into the situation of a group of civilians who the ICRC had been told was being detained in Decane town, and to assess the situation in surrounding villages. The delegates had several meetings with the civilians concerned. While not detained or under house arrest, they were nevertheless in a very difficult situation as they had been unable to leave their homes owing to poor security conditions, a predicament faced by many civilians throughout central Kosovo. Information about the group's whereabouts is being relayed to their families in northern Albania who were anxious about their relatives'welfare. The mission also enabled the ICRC to assess the situation of Serbs and other civilians who remain in the area.
Missions to Junik
On 23 June, delegates reached Junik, a village a few kilometres from the Albanian border and under insurgents control. In addition to other tasks, they visited a few hundred Serb civilians stranded there. On 25 June they were back and managed to provide initial assistance to three places between Junik and the border where some 600 elderly people, women and children have taken refuge in extremely harsh conditions. Delegates distributed food parcels, hygiene parcels, baby parcels, blankets and jerrycans cans to stock water. In Junik itself, medical structures were provided with dressing material and other basic but essential supplies. Further visits will be made in the very near future.
Apart from visits to Decane (on 10, 17 and 23 June), Pec (on 17 and 23 June) and Junik (on 23 June and 25 June), delegates also travelled to Glogovac, Poklek, Vasiljevo, Stimlje, Ulcinj, Nekrovacz, Malishevo, Kidovic, Izbica, Srbica, Rudnik, Kotor and Istok
In all these localities delegates made further contact with representatives of the Yugoslav authorities and security forces, as well as with representatives of the Albanian community and the insurgents. In addition to making the ICRC's role known and promoting the rules of international humanitarian law, specific issues such as threats, arrests, allegations of abduction or summary execution, were also followed up. The ICRC also met representatives of local emergency councils, medical structures and the local Red Cross. The security conditions and food situation of the population were assessed, numbers of displaced people were taken (and verified, where possible), allegations of ill-treatment by security forces or insurgents were noted, Red Cross messages were collected and distributed and relief goods (family parcels, hygiene kits, jerrycans) were provided for vulnerable individuals and families, where necessary. Delegates also delivered medical supplies to health facilities.
In Montenegro, 2,000 food parcels are soon to be distributed in addition to the 2,500 parcels already handed out. In Kosovo, delegates have been giving out small amounts of ad hoc relief in the course of their field missions. Now that needs have been identified in many areas, larger-scale assistan ce can be planned and implemented shortly.
Visits to detainees
Delegates have started a new round of visits to persons detained by the government in connection with the Kosovo crisis and, on the side of the insurgents, are taking advantage of improved access to look into reports that Serb people have been abducted.
The situation in the district of Tropoje is still very uncertain, concerning the exact number of refugees who have come over the border from Kosovo. The strain of supporting so many people (estimated at some 13,000) is beginning to show in the area, with an increase in the number of security incidents. Further pockets of refugees are located in Durres and Tirana.
The ICRC has set up message centres in Bajram Curri -- where the ICRC maintains a permanent presence -- to enable refugees in the area to make contact with relatives in Kosovo, Albania, Montenegro, and elsewhere. The names of people and families who have arrived safely in Albania are also being broadcast regularly on radio stations.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has been supporting the Albanian Red Cross (ARC) in its work for the refugees with food and non-food assistance. The ICRC has similarly helped the ARC by providing medical support. Delegates have maintained visits to medical structures, providing them with material as necessary.