Both local and international commentators predict a 'hot spring' in the Balkans, with Kosovo, Montenegro and southern Serbia the most likely areas of conflict.
Serbian Orthodox Archbishop Artemije, who is one of the two main leaders of the Kosovo Serbs and who supports the Serbian opposition, said in Washington last week that it is too early for any discussion on Kosovo's political future. He added that a change in the province's status should come only after democracy has been established in Serbia and Yugoslavia.
Some international as well as Albanian observers have recently called for talks on the political future of Kosovo. They argue that the UN's interim administration has proved ineffective and that the time has come to set up permenant structures, which presumably would be controlled by the ethnic Albanian majority. Head of UNMIK Bernard Kouchner was reported (Koha Ditore) as saying that because of the recent clashes between Albanians, Serbs and KFOR members, it has become necessary to discuss Kosovo's 'final status'. The Albanians should be given an idea of what's going to happen in the future, said Kouchner, and he proposes that Kosovo should not be a part of Serbia, but should be autonomous within Yugoslavia. The UN Security Council is currently considering Kouchner's proposal for an SC mission in Kosovo.
After fresh outbreaks of violence in Mitrovica, local newspaper Zeri pointed out that despite meetings, good words and partial measures' there has still been no meeting between Albanian and Serb representatives on the subject of uniting the still-divided city.
On 8 March, International Women's Day was commemorated with protest rallies throughout Kosovo by women calling for the release of Albanian prisoners held in Serbian jails.
Yugoslav army sources have told IWPR that Milosovic has illegally infiltrated special forces and units of Yugoslav army in Kosovo to provoke incidents between local Albanians and Serbs. Sources say that Yugoslav army and police personnel 'go deep inside Kosovo territory to carry out missions'. Rumours abound that they disguise themselves as NATO soldiers.
International humanitarian relief operations in Kosovo are moving from emergency response to longer-term rehabilitation and development after nine months of one of the largest-ever international relief operations in dollars spent per capita. UNCHR is rapidly withdrawing from shelter/reconstruction in favour of minority protection issues and the EU is growing into the main coordinating and funding body for this sector.
UNHCR has confirmed an increase in the number of Albanians arriving in Kosovo from Presheva, Medvegja and Bujanovc due to the tensions in this region. From February until the beginning of March more than 1700 people have registered with UNHCR from the Presheva region alone.
Macedonia has become the first west Balkan state to be invited to start talks with the EU on reaching an 'agreement for stability and association.' Jose Pinto Teixeira, the EU representative in Macedonia, said that the negotiations could be concluded by the end of this year, but a lot will depend on Macedonia's readiness to introduce reforms. The next step would be the ratification of the agreement by Macedonia and the EU, which could take up to four years. Eventually the agreement would contribute to creating a free market on World Trade Organisation guidelines. The agreement covers inter-ethnic relations, human rights and democracy, and particularly stresses regional cooperation.
Tensions are growing in the border municipalities of southern Serbia with the alleged formation of the Liberation Army of Preservo, Medvedja and Bujanovic. Fighters wearing the Albanian insignia of UCPMB have been spotted in the village of Dobrosin. The entrance to the village is guarded by men in combat uniforms armed with Kalashnikovs.
The political and social climate in Belgrade continued to deteriorate sharply:-
The Socialist Party (SPS) Congress in Belgrade have again started to use the openly hostile language that was in use before the conflicts in Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo. One of their speeches likened opposition leaders and activists to Serbs in the middle ages who converted to Islam and fought Christians on behalf of the Ottoman Empire. In the wake of the Congress, a prominent opposition leader stated that the FRY government had 'declared war on the opposition'.
Rumours of an imminent renewal of NATO bombing have swept through Belgrade, partly as a result of recent conflicts between Serbs and Albanians in Mitrovica as well as because of Albanian attacks on Serbs outside of Kosovo. There is evidence that these rumours are being fueled by official and unofficial government sources.
Frictions between the Serb Radical Party (SRS) and the independent media have escalated. These were sparked by SRS accusations of the media'a complicity in the recent assassination of FRY Defence Minister Pavel Bulatovic and warnings of trials and executions. The leader of SRS, also Vice Premier of FRY, in a meeting in Belgrade recently with Libya's Deputy Foreign Minister, called for a joint front against 'American hegemonism'.
The ruling parties of FRY - SPS, SRS and Yugoslav Left (JUL) - accused local leaders of the opposition-held towns of Belgrade, Novi Sad, Nis and Kragujevac of 'devastating results, thefts and corruption'.
Some individuals were severely beaten in Belgrade when they attempted to remove public posters mocking the student opposition movement. The incident was captured on amateur video, and revealed that the attackers had been waiting in a parked truck nearby, apparently to thwart any attempts at removal. The attackers' attire and mannerisms suggested that they were plainclothes policemen.
UNHCR, with the Office of the Serbian Commissioner for Refugees, commenced on 1 March the registration of IDPs now living in Serbia. The process is expected to last six weeks.
The towns of Kragujavac and Kursumlija in Serbia continue to suffer from the war and the NATO bombing - after the Zastava factory was destroyed by NATO bombing more than ninety per cent of the population in Kragujevac is without any income. Both Kragujevac and Kursumlija are situated fairly close to Kosovo and thus host a great number of refugees. Additionally the security situation around Kursumlija, which is close to the Kosovo border, is very precarious, with several incidents recently having taken place.
The political developments in the region are making a significant impact on the Sandjak region's economic life. Due to the Serb commercial blockade against Montenegro all economic relations between the two republics have been cut. The customs clearance procedure between them is similar to that between two independent states. The same regulations have been introduced at the border with Republika Srpska to avoid trading goods from Serbia through Bosnia into Montenegro. Thus Sandjak's economy has been cut off from its previous markets. The significance of the shadow economy has been increasing: according to estimates almost fifty percent of the country's GDP has been produced in this way. Goods are smuggled from Serbia to Montenegro through the forests during the night.
In the territory of the region's Serbian part there are currently 7,000 IDPs from Kosovo (Albanians, Bosnians, Serbs). The majority has found accommodation with host families. Only three thousand of them have been registered but the authorities are planning a re-registration in the near future. Besides them there are refugees from Croatia and Bosnia living in the region; the election of a new government in Croatia has given them fresh hope for returning. Yugoslav Red Cross and UNHCR are providing some assistance, but it is not regular, and the whole region is suffering from shortages of medicines.
There is growing alarm at the rapidly deteriorating state of relations between Belgrade and Montenegro. Concerns about further instability rose sharply following Carl Bildt's recent statement to the UN Security Council that :
"There is no doubt that the Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosovic is planning a military intervention in Montenegro: he is bringing troop reinforcements and has deployed special units of the military police in key strategic areas across Montenegro.
"As long as the current Belgrade regime is in power, Serbia and Montenegro are heading for a conflict - slowly but continually. The fact that Montenegro did not respond by immediately seceding, but rather proposed reforming their relations with Serbia, shows a level of responsibility which deserves to be rewarded."
Carl Bildt's report also noted that Montenegro's position is difficult because it suffers from sanctions being imposed on two sides:
"On the one hand it endures the sanctions imposed on the whole of FRY and on the other it is confronted with the sanctions imposed by Serbia. The confrontation between Serbia and Montenegro is thus a conflict about the future of FRY. A regional solution for the Balkans is not possible until key questions on the future of Yugoslavia are resolved."
The Governments of Albania and Montenegro recently opened the Bozaj border crossing point to encourage commerce. It had been closed since the Albania's civil crisis erupted in early 1997. Shortly afterwards, however, the Yugoslav Army established a check point (inside Montenegro) and closed the border. Although the point was eventually re-opened, the army's swift reaction is indicative of why the local population is concerned about the poor relationships between Serbia and Montenegro.
Until last week, all registration plates of vehicles from Albania entering Montenegro were recorded, as were those going in the other direction. The army was stopping cars and asking passengers where they were going and why.
The internal blockade between Serbia and Montenegro continues to deny both republics' citizens a wide variety of items, mostly agricultural. The blockade also applies to nearly all goods being imported into Serbia from Montenegro, excluding iron and aluminium. Coal can only be imported into Serbia with a special certificate.
After meeting US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic said that the USA and other western countries would help Montenegro to defend itself against the 'eventual' aggression of Milosovic's regime, Serbian opposition paper Blic reported.
The political situation has remained stable over the last three months. However it is still recommended not to travel after dark. Albania's participation within the Stability Pact (covering trade and transport between Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Macedonia and Romania) brings a sense of hope to the population for its future, even though it will receive the smallest portion of funding of any country involved.
A series of high level visits have been made to Albania this past month by Madeleine Albright as well as the General Secretary of NATO. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees plans to visit Albania at the end of March.
Roma Camp in Zitkovac
ACT/NCA last week received the go-ahead to rehabilitate the washrooms, but eventually the plan is to move as many people as possible to the Roma Village at Cesmin Luk and to close down this camp. Only seventy Romas remain here. ACT/NCA have been providing extra food supplies due to problems with WFP distribution.
Roma village in Cesmin Luk
ACT/NCA have continued to improve living conditions for the residents, now numbering over two hundred. They are currently building clotheslines and undertaking repairs to the prefabs and on the kitchen and shower blocks. Here also extra food supplies have been made available. The main problem for the residents is a lack of possibilities for earning a living - they are not receiving any help with income generation. It is hoped to start a road project in the camp, which would provide work for some of the residents. The camp should finally be completed next week, by when it is planned to have erected another ten prefabs.
Diakonie, in cooperation with MCIC, is rehabilitating and reconstructing two hundred houses in the Gjakova area.
ACT/Christian Aid made final distributions in Little Reti, and begun them in Shkoze. Houses in Rahovec were assessed and vouchers are in preparation.
The DCA-ACT team have just restarted demining again thanks to the warmer weather bringing a thaw.
FOOD SECURITY AND AGRICULTURE PROGRAMME
Ten villages in Mitrovica and Vushtrri municipalities will benefit from a new ACT/UMCOR tractor repair programme which will fix 73 tractors. This kind of programme has been in big demand amongst local farmers.
Preparation for the spring kits distribution
is underway. They will benefit approximately 1600 families.
An income generation proposal for the Mitrovica area has been presented to USAID. It is intended to create a business centre in Mitrovicato stimulate rural development through information provision, training and access to agriculture/livestock inputs.
UMCOR Food Security and Agriculture staff together with representatives from LWF Mitrovica and Decani have agreed the following categories of family who will be eligible for agricultural aid from ACT:
- Families without any remunerative employment
- Families with an incapacitated care giver
- Families with a disabled adult family member
- Families with children aged 0-7 with additional difficulties aggravated by the prolonged emergency situation
- Families with pregnant women ;and/or lactating mothers
- Families with elderly members
The agricultural programme of ACT/ Hungarian Interchurch Aid started last autumn by renting and ploughing over thirty hectares of land throughout the Sanjak region. The next step will be fertilising the land, and as the factory in Pancevo was heavily damaged, the procurement of fertilisers is difficult. Only bulk purchases of more than five thousand kilos are available.
ACT/HIA will build greenhouses for producing vegetables for the soup kitchens. Additionally HIA is starting a dairy farm, which will open once current renovations are finished. The milk products will also be distributed through the soup kitchens.
Diakonie/MCIC are rehabilitating and building sewage systems. Work on sewage plants in Bojane and Rasce began in February and the sewage plant in Radusha was finished at the end of February.
Diakonie/MCIC are restoring two schools in Doblibare and Novesel. Diakonie will restore a school in Jeshova this spring.
ACT/Diakonie is rehabilitating two schools and one kindergarten in the Kavaje prefecture, Luz I Vogel and Pecquinaj. They also hope to supply classroom kits, school chairs, school tables and pupil kits to each school.
Diakonie/MCIC have procured a bus for the transportation of Serbian pupils from Velica Hoca to Rahovec, in order to enable a regular school visit for those Serbian pupils in Rahovec. Diakonisches Werk Schleswig-Holstein will start a psycho-social project in cooperation with Amica e.V. with the goal of healing trauma by offering psychotherapy for individuals and groups, and education and qualification of local specialists in trauma treatment. The project will be realised together with local organisations.
ACT/UMCOR Volunteer Coordinators visited last weekend and met women, youth and community leaders in Bare and Shipol villages, in order to assess volunteer opportunities for this summer.
Diakonie with Caritas Germany have opened an information office in Pristina which will proved advice centres for returnees. Information will be available on the general situation in Kosovo, on the specific situation in home villages and towns of the returnees, and on possible assistance in Kosovo by humanitarian organisations.
Diakonie is supporting a psycho-social project with German NGO 'Amica e.V'a in Gostivar for refugees in host families. Amica offers psychological therapies and training, legal advice, qualification courses and a social centre for the refugees.
A new MCIC programme will develop communications between women's NGOs both within Macedonia and internationally. Eight resource centres have already been set up throughout Macedonia and these will be equipped with technical equipment, libraries and databases; they will be connected by a common computer network. Training has been provided for each of the eight centre heads and the programme will go on to organise seminars in gender and health for members of each partner NGO, thus equipping them to execute, supervise and evaluate future health education and gender relations' projects. The programme is expected to go on for two years, and enjoys the support of Christian Aid and Phare Lien Programme.
MCIC's Business Support Centre is proving to be an outstanding success. It initiates contacts between Greek, German and Macedonian enterprises and also enables previous associations, disrupted due to the instability in the region over the last few years, to be reestablished.
The current economic situation continues to worsen, with the minimum monthly salary now at only DM65 (approximately $34). The Union of Workers in Montenegro has gone so far as to ask the Ministry of Trade to open stores in all municipalities to sell Republic war supplies at state-controlled prices.
ACT member International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) is distributing family food parcels and family hygiene parcels to 150 especially vulnerable members of the Union of Workers.
IOCC Belgrade is distributing supplementary food and hygiene parcels to Pinki collective centre in the Belgrade municipality of Zemun. In addition to refugees who were placed there prior to 1999, this former sports and recreation centre now houses 304 Kosovo IDPs (half of whom are Roma); the total number of residents has more than tripled since mid-99. The residents of Pinki are accommodated in joint living areas, with families separated only by wool military blankets. IOCC staff report that adequate hygiene conditions are nearly impossible to maintain in such an environment, a concern compounded by the fact that exactly half of the centre's residents are under age 15. Other than ICRC (through the Yugoslav Red Cross), IOCC is the only international agency distributing supplementary food and hygiene parcels in Zemun.
IOCC Belgrade also distributed food, hygiene, children's clothing and institutional cleaning kits for the children in Kolevka ('cradle') orphanage in Subotica in the north of FRY. Kolevka, a state institution, is a social and health centre that takes care of two hundred children up to the age of seven from 49 Yugoslav communities. One hundred and fifty of the children are mentally undeveloped and the remainder are healthy children deprived of parental care and nurturing. Since its establishment, ten thousand toddlers have taken their first steps here. The help received from donors is very significant for this institution's beneficiaries.
ACT/HIA with its local implementing partner, Merhamet operates two soup kitchens in the Sanjak region, one in Novi Pazar and one in Priboj. They provide four hundred and and three hundred meals per day respectively, working six days a week.
Diakonie/ Philanthropy/Caritas are running an 'Ecumenical Project Kragujevac' which includes a soup kitchen with up to one thousand meals per day and the distribution of three thousand food and hygiene parcels per month for refugees and persons suffering from social hardship in Kragujevac. A humanitarian pharmacy provides pregnant women and children with urgently needed medicines.
In four collective centres in Kragujevac, Kraljevo, Cacak and Kursumlija, Diakonie distributed blankets, mattresses, stoves and firewood. Firewood has also been distributed to refugees living with host families in Kragujevac.
Diakonie/Philanthropy have established a soup kitchen in Kursumlija for one thousand refugees from Kosovo who are living in very poor conditions. The refugees have additionally been provided with beds, mattresses, shoes and cookware. Despite this the situation for these refugees remains very unsatisfactory since many of them still have no adequate accommodation. Now there is a possibility that Diakonie can set up a refugee camp in the surroundings of Belgrade. Diakonie will supply equipment such as furniture and blankets for the camp.
ACT/Lutheran World Federation/World Service and the Ecumenical Humanitarian Organisation (EHO) are covering the most basic food, hygiene and medical needs of the elderly and the most socially vulnerable in the Vojvodina region by means of food and hygiene parcels, soup kitchens, vegetable seed parcels and a volunteer project which helps the elderly and the sick (the 'Rainbow' project). The programme has been extended until June 2000.
Since February 1000 people are receiving free meals from the soup kitchen. These are prepared in the large kitchen of the city bakery in Novi Sad and in restaurants in Zrenjanin, Pacir and Titel. This project is also supported by Diakonie.
ACT member Diakonie is distributing clothing sets to refugees and running the 'Olympia' refugee camp in Tirana. However local humanitarian organisations and NGOs, especially the Orthodox Autocephalous Church of Albania, are experiencing difficulties receiving goods-in-kind for Kosovo Refugees and Albanian host families. No clear explanation is being provided by the Albanian Government for these delays. UNHCR, Caritas and the Red Cross are allowed to bring in aid normally.
ACT/Diaconia Agapes is currently distributing new clothing sets for Kosovo refugees throughout Albania and regenerating the DA Collective Centre Camp Olympia in Tirana. Clothing is being delivered on a daily basis in Tirana, Durres, Fier, Shkoder and Elbasan areas. Unfortunately, due to the resistance of the Albanian government, DA's shipment of 2,400 new winter clothing sets procured from abroad have remained blocked at customs clearance for the past two weeks.
Approximately seventy Kosovo refugees reside at DA's Camp Olympia. DA feeds them and cares for their daily needs, working in cooperation with the International Medical Centre to provide much-needed medical treatment. UNHCR will fund DA to improve the environment around the camp.
Other NGOs in Albania are in the process of closing their refugee camps due to lack of funds. UNHCR has asked DA for assistance in hosting 240 Kosovo refugees at Camp Olympia. Kosovo refugees have been issued with ID cards from UNHCR allowing them to stay in Albania until 2003.
ACT/Diakonie are working closely with MCIC on distribution of food and hygiene parcels for refugees in host familes, host families and those suffering from social hardship.
OVERVIEW OF ACT RESPONSE
The six implementing partners in Kosovo are the Lutheran World Federation, Christian Aid,United Methodist Committee on Relief, Macedonian Center for International Cooperation, Norwegian Church Aid, and DanChurchAid. Together they constitute the ACT humanitarian response within Kosovo, working in the predominantly rural areas surrounding Mitrovica, Decani, Djakova, and Rahovic; and engaged in shelter and school rehabilitation, winterization, de-mining, well cleaning/water sanitation, agricultural and food assistance, and social/community development.
Of the fourteen projects within the current ACT Appeal, four: Hungarian Interchurch Aid, Ecumenical Humanitarian Organization, the International Orthodox Christian Charities and LWF - are focused on assisting internally displaced people, refugees, and others in need within the FRY areas of Vojvodina, Sandzak, Serbia, Montenegro, and Kosovo.
Submitted by Jane Connolly, Information
Officer: ACT Balkans
Phone: 381 38 549 187/188/190; Mobile : +377 44 120 076
Communicators with member agencies should contact this office direct for information about current media opportunities.
ACT Web Site address: http://www.act-intl.org
ACT is a worldwide alliance of churches and related agencies meeting human need through coordinated emergency response.
The ACT Coordinating Office is based with the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the Lutheran World Federation (LWF in Switzerland.