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Update no. 99/02 on ICRC activities in Kosovo

24-03-1999 Operational Update No 99/02

Following the announcement by NATO Secretary-general, Javier Solana, authorizing military action against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, the International Committee of the Red Cross reaffirms its intention to remain  in the country, including the province of Kosovo. Delegates of the ICRC will continue, to the best of their ability, to assist the victims of the crisis and to deal with newly arising needs.

Prompted by the NATO announcement, the ICRC sent a diplomatic note on 24 March to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and its respective member States and to the Yugoslav authorities, reminding them of their obligations under international humanitarian law, in particular the four Geneva Conventions of 1949. Under this body of law, the belligerents must take all the necessary precautions to spare civilians, treat captured persons humanely, ensure that the wounded and sick have access to medical care, protect medical facilities and their staff and to respect the Red Cross and its emblem.

Given the unpredictable development of events in Kosovo, the ICRC delegation is continually reassessing the security situation. In order to reduce the possible exposure to risk, the team in Pristina was reduced on 23 March from 31 to 19 expatriate staff. They work together with 140 local staff. The team includes specialists in relief, health, water and sanitation as well as protection. In addition the ICRC presently has 11 delegates in Belgrade and 5 in Podgorica (Montenegro). Some of the staff withdrawn from Pristina have been redeployed to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to reinforce the ICRC team there in its su pport for the ongoing efforts of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and the National Red Cross to provide assistance to refugees from Kosovo.

In Kosovo itself, the ICRC teams managed over the last few days to travel from Pristina to Prizren, Pec, Drenica, Glogovac, Podujevo and other locations to distribute relief goods and to assess the situation. Srbica, one of the areas most affected by recent fighting, was reached by a team at the end of last week to provide assistance to displaced from the Cicavica area. However, convoys trying to take supplies to Srbica on 22 and 23 March, were unable to get through. During their field visits the ICRC teams observed a significant number of population displacements triggered, as it appears, by a combination of panic and fear after the withdrawal of the OSCE observer mission and the upsurge in fighting on the ground. However, at the moment it is impossible to quantify the scale of the population movements. There are also many reports of arrests of people that the ICRC is trying to follow-up with the authorities. Between October 1998 and last week, the ICRC visited 721 persons  detained in connection with the Kosovo crisis.

In the course of last week, the ICRC distributed over 100 tonnes of relief goods to nearly 12,500 people all over Kosovo. The aid consisted of wheat flour, sugar, oil, pasta, baby parcels, hygiene parcels, blankets, candels, clothes, beds, mattresses and kitchen sets. On 21 March ICRC delegates managed to evacuate around 50 people from Cicotova to nearby Glogovac. Several patients have been treated by ICRC doctors. Medical evacuations from the countryside have also been carried out.

The ICRC has emergency stocks of relief and medical material in place in Belgrade and Pristina which can be mobilized, if need be, and channeled to beneficiaries through the ongoing relief and medical activities.