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Update No. 98/02 on ICRC activities in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia: special focus on Kosovo

27-03-1998 Operational Update

A team of four expatriate ICRC and International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent (Federation) staff are now back in the Pristina office after having received assurances from the relevant authorities that their safety would be guaranteed. All personnel had been recalled to Belgrade for consultation on 11 March following repeated death threats. The ICRC's Delegate General for Western and Central Europe and the Balkans immediately travelled to the region for discussions with Ministers of the Interior, Justice and Health of the Republic of Serbia, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia's Ministry of External Affairs and the Federal Presidency, the Yugoslav Red Cross and representatives of the Albanian community. The delegates were finally able to resume their work in the field on 19 March and have since had access to several villages in the Drenica area.

In response to the Serbian Government's invitation to launch an investigation into the recent events in Kosovo, the ICRC made it clear that acting as a fact-finding commission did not lie within the scope of its mandate. The ICRC's priority remains to fulfil its humanitarian role in Kosovo. Since the organization's return to Pristina, delegates have been following up detention issues and re-establishing contacts with interlocutors there. Daily field trips have also been made to assess the humanitarian situation and to distribute ad-hoc assistance to the most affected areas.

 Visits to detainees  

The ICRC sustained efforts to gain access to those held in connection with the unrest and as a result was able to visit six people arrested during the recent disturbances. In the meantime, the ICRC is continuing to make representations to the authorities to be allowed to visit further people arrested over the course of the past few weeks.

 Assistance to the civilian population  

Tensions between police, armed groups and a frightened civilian population in the area remain high. This has caused some gaps in the normal infrastructure and left some of the population vulnerable. In order to pinpoint these specific areas of need, the first field survey since the Red Cross's return to Pristina was carried out on 21 March. 

During this first survey, one ICRC and one Federation vehicle packed with close to 200 blankets visited Glogovac, Srbica, Prekaz, Kosovska Mitrovica and Llaushe. The first port of call was the Glogovac clinic where activities were slowly returning to normal. Further health structures were visited throughout the region. The most urgent needs were identified as food, clothing, hygiene items and medicine for several thousand people.

On the basis of the above surveys, four Federation and ICRC landcruisers visited Llaushe, Broja, Vojnik and Devnic on 23 March for a distribution of emergency relief items in the targeted areas. In all, 1,000 ready-to-eat meals, 1.6 mt wheat flour and 350 hygiene parcels were delivered to a number of locations including an isolated orthodox convent. 

Further assessment missions were also made to Srbica and Decane on 24 and 25 March respectively in order to assess th e situation regarding detainees and internally displaced (IDPs). Figures and precise information are difficult to ascertain at present but the ICRC is actively monitoring the situation and establishing contacts at local level in the course of its field visits. 

The ICRC is currently setting up an emergency stock of food and non food items, hygenic and medical material in order to respond to immediate needs.



 Cooperation with the Movement  

The first two of the above-mentioned field trips were carried out in full collaboration with the Federation which has significant stocks in Kosovo. The Federation has also been able to resume its assistance programmes for refugees and the socially vulnerable under the ICRC'S coordination.

The Montenegro Red Cross has registered and ditributed food, hygiene kits and other non- food items to some 1,500 displaced people from Kosovo.

In view of the above situation, the ICRC is presently reconsidering its priorities as set out in the 1998 programmes and objectives.