UN Inter-Agency Update on Kosovo Humanitarian Situation Report 76

Report
from UN High Commissioner for Refugees
Published on 11 Jan 1999
24 December 1998 - 10 January 1999
This report has been compiled by OCHA with support from UNHCR and with inputs from UN Agencies and other humanitarian organisations in former Yugoslavia and Albania

KOSOVO

Population Movements

1. UNHCR estimates that there are currently some 180,000 civilians displaced within Kosovo, including the 5,000 who fled their homes in Podujevo municipality ( See point two below). Approximately 110,000 people have returned to their villages, including 12,000 from Montenegro.

2. Fighting between Serbian security forces and the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) erupted in Podujevo municipality on 24 December and continued for four days, ending in a truce negotiated by the OSCE Kosovo Verification Mission (KVM) on 27 December. Some 18 people are believed to have been killed during the four-day period. The conflict centred primarily on the villages of Obrandze, Velika Reka and Lapastica, causing more than 5,000 people to leave although little damage was reported in these villages. Hundreds of residents have since returned to their homes but the majority remain in overcrowded temporary shelters in nearby villages with little sanitation facilities. Podujevo town, which has a population of more than 20,000, remains tense and some residents (mostly women and children) have begun to leave, fearing the spread of fighting.

3. In other parts of Kosovo, the coordinated approach adopted by UNHCR and OSCE KVM has helped to encourage returns. One important example is the town of Malisevo, the former KLA headquarters abandoned by its 3,000 residents last July during an assault by government security forces. Some 1,000 people have returned to Malisevo where the police maintain a reduced presence. The returnees say they were encouraged by assurances given by Mrs Ogata, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and Ambassador Walker, the head of the OSCE Kosovo Verification Mission, during a visit on 21 December. OSCE KVM now has a permanent presence in Malisevo which acts as a source of reassurance for returnees.

Security Situation

4. In addition to the fighting in Podujevo, the most serious incident since the declaration of the ceasefire in October 1998, the period under review has witnessed an increase in the number of murders ( allegedly perpetrated by the KLA), which have prompted vigorous retaliatory action by government security forces. During the past 11 days 21 people are known to have been killed through random violence in urban centres throughout Kosovo. On 5 January an explosive device detonated outside a cafe in Pristina, injuring 3 Serbian youths and triggering retaliatory attacks by Serbian civilians on Albanians. This is the first time that such an incident has occurred in the capital. On 8 January the KLA captured 8 Yugoslav soldiers near Kosovska Mitrovica and OSCE KVM verifiers are currently trying to secure their release. In the meantime tanks and armoured cars have been deployed in the areas around Kosovska Mitrovica and Podujevo. In a separate incident 3 Serbian police were reportedly killed near Suva Reka.

Impact of deteriorating security on Humanitarian Operations

5. The deteriorating security environment is posing increased threats to the operational capability of humanitarian organisations. In one development a vehicle operated by Norwegian Church Aid was targeted by an under-car explosive-device. The device exploded in early morning causing superficial damage to the vehicle. No casualties were sustained. International organisations have been alerted to the need to take precautionary measures to minimise the effectiveness of such attacks.

6. The delivery of relief supplies to vulnerable civilians is becoming more challenging in the current environment. On 7 January hundreds of armed Serbian civilians sealed off the roads into Pristina in protest over the killing of a Serbian man, urging President Milosevic to take urgent action to protect them against spiralling violence in Kosovo. Four inter-agency convoys led by UNHCR had left Pristina before the civilians took to the streets. One convoy of four trucks went to Orahovac in central Kosovo without any problems and returned in mid-afternoon to Pristina after offloading supplies. The three other convoys managed to deliver aid to their destinations, one after skirting the demonstrators on the Pristina-Skopje road. However, the 10 trucks in the three convoys were unable to return to Pristina and spent the night in Mitrovica and Malisevo. Other aid workers were also stranded. At nightfall, UNHCR negotiated with police to allow 14 NGO vehicles blocked at Kosovo Polje just outside Pristina to proceed to the capital.

7. On 9 January armed Serbian civilians seized medicines from Medecins du Monde (MDM) outside Suva Reka in central Kosovo. The medicines were taken to a local hospital. The four MDM staff sought refuge in the nearby woods and were extricated by OSCE KVM later in the evening after UNHCR requested intervention at its headquarters in Pristina and spoke to police authorities.

Relief Distribution

8. In spite of increased threats to security, humanitarian relief supplies continued to be delivered six days a week during the period under review with the exception of 1 January 1999. In the last week of 1998 convoys comprising 78 trucks delivered humanitarian aid to a total of 14 destinations in Kosovo. 31 trucks carried items provided by UNHCR, 15 carried WFP food and the remaining 32 were supplied by five different NGOs. In 1999 UNHCR has continued to lead convoys delivering supplies to Orahovac, Glogovac, Urosevac, Prizren, Pec and Klina municipalities. Agencies providing supplies on these convoys include UNHCR, WFP, Doctors of the World, Mercy Corps International and Children's Aid Direct.

Shelter

9. As at 8 January UNHCR, in collaboration with 17 other international agencies, had distributed some 10,000 shelter kits consisting of plastic sheeting, wooden poles, nails and hammers for the repair and winterisation of damaged houses. Start up kits for repair of damaged roofing have also been distributed. Other humanitarian agencies are providing wooden frames for windows and doors. Weekly meetings are held to keep track of the progress of the programme, co-ordinate activities by geographical area and report on villages that had not been covered.

Community services

10. Save the Children (SCF), ICRC, the Centre for Protection of Women and children, UNICEF and UNHCR recently conducted a joint workshop on the issue of separated children. Participants in the workshop agreed on the following definition for a separated child: "one who is under 18 years and is not living with its parents, for whom it would be in the best interest to re-establish contact with its parents, and/or return it to the parents, or arrange alternative family care."

Health

11. UNICEF reports that the campaign to vaccinate children in the Malisevo area has been completed despite difficulties in retrieving vaccination records from the Malisevo health unit due to fears that it had been booby-trapped. Vaccines were obtained from the health centre in Orahovac and syringes and needles from the Institute of Public Health in Pristina. UNICEF and Medecins du Monde provided transport to the vaccination teams.

Food aid programme related to Kosovo crisis

12. The WFP Regional Logistics Unit which is co-ordinating WFP and NGO food aid arrivals in the Montenegrin port of Bar, which serves as the main supply point for the region, is now fully staffed and cargo management systems are being established. However, transfer of the food from the port in Bar to other parts of the region remains slow due to delays in customs and sanitary clearance procedures. A minimum of 15 working days are required to complete this process and further delays are being experienced during the holiday season.

13. There is currently some 18,500 Metric Tonnes (MT) of food in Bar. Some 2,500 MT of Mercy Corps International (MCI) and Catholic Relief Services (CRS) cargo has been cleared by the authorities and is waiting to be despatched to Kosovo. A further 8,000 MT of WFP and NGO food aid is awaiting clearance and more than 8,000 MT of NGO wheat flour, which arrived during the last week of December 1998, is currently being unloaded. Some 9,300 MT WFP mixed commodities are scheduled to arrive in Bar in the first half of January 1999.

14. The re-opening of the road near Kolasin in Northern Montenegro, which was closed from 21 - 28 December due to a landslide, has resulted in a resumption of food aid deliveries from Bar to Northern Montenegro and Kosovo. According to the Montenegrin Red Cross (MRC), approximately half of the amount needed for the December distribution was despatched to the northern municipalities in Montenegro. The MRC office is closed from 1-10 January for the Orthodox Christmas holidays and it is hoped that the December distribution will be completed by 20 January.

15. In Kosovo, food distributions remain on an ad hoc, but co-ordinated, basis. It is hoped that with the large amounts of food aid soon to be delivered to Kosovo systematic monthly distributions will be possible during 1999.

MONTENEGRO

16. The Montenegrin Commissioner for Displaced Persons ( MCDP) has announced that the registration of displaced from Kosovo will start on 20 January, 1999. MCDP and UNHCR have organised a joint training session for the staff conducting the registration on 14 January and an information campaign will also be undertaken during the same week.

17. In Ulcinj local authorities reported 244 new arrivals from Kosovo during the period 22 - 30 December, 1998. Those interviewed gave several reasons for wanting to enter Montenegro: a desire to go abroad, a wish to be with their families over the holiday season and poor living conditions in Kosovo. However, the overall trend indicates that more civilians are returning from Montenegro to Kosovo than vice versa.

18. 95 units in the Roma settlement in Podgorica containing 705 Roma displaced from Kosovo have been earmarked to receive shelter kits and plastic sheeting for rooves and windows to be supplied by Swiss Disaster Relief. The distribution will start in the second week of January 1999 and will be organised by the Italian Consortium for Solidarity (ICS). The distribution of shelter kits and plastic sheeting in Rozaje municipality continues.

ALBANIA

19. There has reportedly been little civilian movement in either direction across the Kosovo / Albanian border during the period under review. Although the security situation has been relatively calm there have been intermittent exchanges of fire between FRY and Albanian border officials.

20. UNHCR reports that as at 7 January 893 Kosovo refugees had been relocated from the North of Albania to other parts of the country. There are currently 50 refugees in the one remaining collective centre in Bajram Curri as the other two have been closed following the recent refugee movements. There are believed to be approximately 500 refugees in Tropoje district in Northern Albania, including 128 accommodated in Fierze.

21. In Shkodra, located on the Southern border with Montenegro, the collective centre at the Musical School is virtually ready for occupation. When bedding and heaters are in place it is hoped that 85 refugees will be moved from the hotel in Shkodra and 150 refugees from Shengjin. The remainder of the estimated 210 refugees currently accommodated in Shengjin will be moved as soon as other collective centres are habitable.

22. The Government Office for Refugees has started the process of re-registering refugees from Kosovo although the process is proceeding very slowly due to organisational and technical problems. UNHCR reports that the deadline for the completion of the registration is mid-February.

23. Food aid distributions for refugees from Kosovo for the first month of 1999 commenced on 4 January and will be concluded by 10 January. A total of 22,407 refugees will receive food aid. WFP meets the needs of 11,500 beneficiaries. This caseload includes those living in Durres municipality and residents in collective centres. The International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC) and the Albanian Red Cross will cover most of the remaining beneficiaries, the majority of whom are in Tirana. IFRC reports that they are in the process of receiving 15,000 food parcels. Food due to arrive by the end of January, plus sugar which is due in February, will ensure a full pipeline until June 1999 when the food aid programme is slated to end.

For information, please contact:

Fernando del Mundo, UNHCR Pristina Tel: 381-38-321-09
David Carden (OCHA), UNHCR Belgrade
Tel: 381-11-344-2091, Fax: 381-11-344-2947, E-mail: carden@unhcr.ch