UN Inter-Agency Update on Kosovo Situation Report 46

Report
from UN High Commissioner for Refugees
Published on 24 Jul 1998
UNHCR Belgrade, Friday 24 July 1998
This report has been compiled by UNHCR with support from OCHA and with inputs from UN Agencies and other humanitarian organizations in FRY, FYROM and Albania

The conflict in Kosovo has entered a "new and potentially more deadly phase" said US Envoy to the Balkans, Robert Gelbard on Thursday, stressing that there is a "clear and urgent need for both meaningful dialogue and immediate tension-reducing measures, including a comprehensive cessation of hostilities," according to the press. The recent scene of intense fighting, Orahovac, is now reportedly under the control of the Serbian police. Belgrade media reports that life in the town was "coming back to normal" with electricity, water, and telephone links restored. Many of the inhabitants of that town who fled the fighting earlier this week, however, are yet to return, and humanitarian aid agencies are rushing to assess the priority needs of the victims, as well as to deliver critical assistance.

1. KOSOVO

1.1 Serbian Police Regain Control of Orahovac. Serbian police have reportedly assumed control of the Zrze-Bela Crkva-Orahovac road and the town of Orahovac on Tuesday evening. Belgrade media reported on 24 July that electricity, water, and phone links were reestablished. Many of the civilians displaced by the recent fighting, however, are yet to return to Orahovac, many out of fear.

1.2 Many Dead and Injured from Clashes in Orahovac. On 22 July, the Kosova Information Centre (QIK) which is close to the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) reported that the LDK and the Council for the Defense of Human Rights (CDHRF) chapters in Prizren obtained accounts from those who fled the fighting, and said that 16 Kosovo Albanians were known to be killed, in addition to the 34 reported earlier, bringing the total to at least 50 ethnic Albanian deaths. In addition, numerous reports indicated that many ethnic Albanians had been missing, possibly abducted or detained.

As many of the dead in the town of Orahovac and in the neighbouring villages had not been identified, complete figures on casualties caused by this week's clashes remained unavailable as of today.

The following figures, however, were provided by a Serbian police captain who informed reporters on Wednesday: 4 Serb civilians killed; and 51 Serbian, Albanian and Romany civilians kidnapped. The police had also arrested 223 Kosovo Albanians suspected of having aided "terrorist" activities. Most of these people were released, while 26 remained detained after questioning. Separately, Tanjug reported yesterday that a total of 79 persons had been abducted by ethnic Albanians in Kosovo between 1 January and 15 July of this year. These people included ethnic Serbs, Montenegrins, Albanians and others.

1.3 Thousands of Displaced Civilians: Mainly in Malisevo. According to Betaweek, Serbian police sources announced earlier that they had made it possible for 2,000 people from Orahovac, both Serbs and ethnic Albanians, to leave the site of conflict and evacuate safely. Figures of displacement, however, are much higher according to other sources. Kosova Information Centre (QIK) estimates that only about 5,000 people have remained in Orahovac, while some 13,000 had fled to neighbouring areas. The Mother Theresa Society (MTS), a Kosovo Albanian NGO, told UNHCR on 23 July that the arrival figures from Orahovac was at this time difficult to assess, as the influx still continued in to Malisevo. They estimated, however, that about 6,000 people remained in Orahovac. (No independent confirmation of the exact displacement figures is available to date.)

1.4 UNHCR Visits Malisevo. On 23 July, a team from UNHCR Pristina visited Malisevo, a town 15 kms north of Orahovac, to assess the overall situation with particular attention to the plight of the thousands of IDPs who were reported to have arrived from Orahovac during the last few days.

(a) Access OK, Some Roads Empty, Town Full of People - The visit proceeded smoothly without any problem faced at the check points. No traffic was seen on the road between Stimlje and Malisevo and the villages along the road appeared mostly empty. The main road in the town of Malisevo, however, was full of people with countless street shops along the road side selling produce, cigarettes and household items. (It was apparently a market day.) Regular stores were open as well.

(b) IDPs Afraid to Return - In the town of Malisevo, UNHCR met with the local chapter of the Mother Theresa Society (MTS). UNHCR also visited two households hosting IDPs in a nearby village of Oasdrozub in Malisevo commune. IDPs said there were some family members that still remained in Orahovac and that they were very eager to go back to find them, but were afraid to do so.

(c) Food Requirements - The town had plentiful seasonal produce, but both IDPs and MTS said that bread was needed the most. Wheat fields in the commune were being harvested, but the wheat could not be processed due to lack of electricity. Because the town could not be reached by private/commercial transport, other basic food items were also lacking. These items included sugar, cooking oil, rice and milk-powder.

(d) Non-food Needs - MTS said that electricity in Malisevo had been cut-off for two months. They requested a generator to at least disinfect medical equipment. As the town had been cut-off from other areas, medical supplies were lacking and local health houses were unable to treat serious cases that required hospital treatment. MTS requested vans and trucks for distribution of aid to surrounding villages. Clothing was also needed as most of the IDPs fled without much of their belongings.

(e) Serb Refugees from Croatia in Orahovac - In addition to the 21 refugees relocated from Orahovac to Pristina on 22 July (see Update #45), UNHCR Pristina relocated another 16 persons on 23 July. All 21 refugees who arrived on 22 July were moved to a collective centre in Pristina. UNHCR supplied blankets and mattresses. Six refugees chose to remain in Orahovac.

1.5 WHO and UNICEF Explores Ways to Provide Vaccination. WHO and UNICEF continue to jointly assess all possible means for assisting the networks and facilities to provide vaccination to children. This support has been identified as one of the foremost priorities, while the fluctuating situation with massive displacement and constant movement of the population continue to raise operational difficulties.

1.6 Medical Supplies to be Coordinated. Along with other international aid reaching the region in increased quantities, a considerable amount of medical supplies are expected to flow in. WHO is concerned of the need to properly address donations of medicines, in order to avoid duplication and mistakes. To address this issue, WHO will intensify coordination with health-related NGOs.

2. MONTENEGRO

2.1 New Arrivals from Kosovo Decrease. For the first time in approximately one month, the daily new arrival of persons fleeing into Montenegro from the conflict in neighboring Kosovo was below 200, at 148 on 23 July. This figure was provided to UNHCR Podgorica by the Montenegrin authorities. The displaced are coming from Pec and Decane.

2.2 Education For Displaced Children. UNICEF and UNHCR plan to jointly meet with the Montenegrin Ministry of Education next week in order to discuss ways of supporting schools hosting classes for IDP children. Both agencies agree that education is a very important part of addressing the needs of those displaced from Kosovo. To have students receive education and to share classes with locals is thought to improve the relations with the local population, as well as the living conditions in the crowded host homes.

2.3 Health Assessment Planned by WHO. WHO is managing an assessment of medical and psycho-social needs of the displaced population in Montenegro. The assessment is currently in its preparatory stage. Involvement of the local health authorities will be essential.

Recently, WHO visited the Health Houses in Rozaje and Plav, and verified that in general, a positive attitude existed in providing all possible medical care to IDPs from Kosovo. Medical supplies which were donated by WHO and distributed by UNHCR reached the two Health Houses on 22 July.

2.4 More Plans for IDP Assistance. The Danish Refugee Council (DRC), the Italian Consortium of Solidarity (ICS) and the Japan Emergency NGOs (JEN) are planning projects to assist IDPs from Kosovo in Montenegro.

3. NORTHERN ALBANIA

3.1 KLA Fighters Train in Tropoje. According to a Reuters report of today, Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA or UCK) have "transformed the northern Albanian town of Tropoje into a virtual military base, openly engaging in weapons training." A Reuters journalist on Thursday saw "dozens of men wearing the distinctive KLA emblem practice shooting in courtyards and outside a school." Several dozen mules were "tethered alongside an open-air weapons market in the town centre."

Meanwhile, insecurity in the district of Tropoje remains a serious concern for the local community, refugees, and the humanitarian aid workers in the area.

3.2 Border Situation: Concern for Both Governments. Meanwhile, on 22 July, the Albanian Ministry of Interior complained that shells from the fighting in Kosovo landed on its territory for the second time in four days, and accused Yugoslavia for threatening Albanian sovereignty. Serbian security sources reportedly have denied that shells had landed in Albania, while OSCE is reported to have said that "it did not appear that Serbian forces had been deliberately targeting Albanian territory but had been firing at the KLA," according to Reuters.

On 23 July, the FRY Government decided "to extend and fortify" the border zone. FRY Prime Minister Momir Bulatovic announced that the Government would extend the border zone towards Albania to 5 kilometres. An announcement of the Federal Secretary for Information said that "the border zone will be visibly marked" and "the Army of Yugoslavia will have full authority within the zone."

For information, please contact:

Kaoruko Seki
UNHCR Belgrade
Tel: (381)11-344-2091
Fax: (381)11-344-2947