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UNHCR Briefing Notes: Kosovo, Zambia/Angola, Tanzania, North Caucasus, Timor

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This is a summary of what was said by the UNHCR spokesperson at today's press briefing at the Palais des Nations. Quoted text from this briefing note may be attributed to the UNHCR spokesperson named below
Ron Redmond

1. Kosovo

UNHCR staff in Mitrovica report this morning that two UNHCR vehicles were destroyed overnight during unrest in the Serb north side of the city. We have temporarily relocated our staff to the southern side of Mitrovica and do not yet know the condition of our office in the north. However, UNHCR staff report that the office of one of our NGO partners was trashed during the unrest overnight in which three people were reported killed and dozens injured. The tensions follow the appalling rocket attack Wednesday on a UNHCR bus near Mitrovica that was carrying 49 Serb civilians, killing two people and wounding three others.

Following the bus attack, UNHCR suspended all eight bus routes we have been operating since last fall in Kosovo to facilitate freedom of movement between isolated communities in the province.

This entire chain of events illustrates the continuing fragility of the situation in Kosovo and proves yet again that the time is not yet ripe for the safe return of non-Albanians to Kosovo. In fact, as I reported at last Friday's briefing, we still see people leaving the province despite all of the international efforts to provide protection for them.

Ultimately, of course, no amount of international action is going to be able to stop this violence.The people of Kosovo must put a stop to it and their community leaders must be seen to act. We've heard plenty of talk, but we have not seen much action to try to put a halt to the continuing acts of violence and revenge.

2. Zambia

UNHCR's efforts in Zambia to move refugees from relatively insecure areas along the Angolan border have entered a second and much more difficult phase with the completion of an air evacuation of nearly 2,300 refugees from one makeshift camp, Kalabo. We are now turning our attention to the much more isolated and remote camp at Sinjembela, where some 8,000 refugees are still trapped along the border in a very insecure area. Fifteeen MT of food and supplies are in place there, along with a mobile clinic supported by UNICEF, but security remains the major concern.

There is no airstrip in the area, so we've got to transfer these refugees 120 kms over a very bad road - so poor that the vehicles can only move at walking speed. The round trip takes three days and we can only average about 300 people per week using seven trucks and four tractors. We are taking them to a new refugee site in Nangweshi. Additional trucks are expected to reinforce the operation. It is such a slow, laborious process that we are also going to allow the refugees the option of walking, which several of them have requested. For those who choose to go by foot to Nangweshi, we are setting up six way stations offering basic shelter and communal kitchen facilities.

Site development at Nangweshi camp has started with refugees involved in the site cleaning.

In the first phase, an airlift, jointly organised by UNHCR and WFP last week, brought 207 MT of food and medical supplies to the border reception center at Kalabo and transported 2,292 refugees on the return leg to Mongu. From Mongu, the refugees were taken by road to an existing refugee site at Mayukwayukwa. Among this group of new arrivals, 65 percent of children under age five were found to be showing signs of malnutrition. Supplementary feeding programs have been set up for them.

Some 2,500 refugees are still in Kalabo in the reception centre, but security conditions and food stocks are adequate enough to allow this group to wait until mid-March, when it will be possible to transport them to Mayukwayukwa by large barge on the Zambezi river.

Fighting is reported to be continuing on the Angolan side of the border, with unconfirmed reports of refugees moving to Shangombo and Imushu.

Zambia is already hosting more than 200,000 refugees, with 22,000 new arrivals over the last four months.

3. Tanzania

Pending positive developments in the peace process in Burundi, refugees continue to flow to Tanzania.

Since the 1st of January 2000, an estimated 24,000 Burundians have crossed the border to seek asylum in the refugee camps in Tanzania.

People interviewed at the border are reporting frequent battles between the Burundi Army and rebels. Many said their houses had been burned.

The majority of the new refugees are women and children who say the men are reportedly arrested or disappear when they go to participate in compulsory night neighbourhood patrols organized by the military.

The food situation and conditions of hygiene in Burundi appear to be precarious. Many newly arrived children are malnourished and suffering from malaria.

This substantial influx led to the establishment of the Karago camp in the Kibondo district of Tanzania in late December. After only one month, this camp is already filling up with a population of more than 26,000 people.

In addition to the Burundian influx, Tanzania is also receiving Congolese refugees. In January, 1,100 Congolese refugees arrived in Kigoma, joining another 100,000 Congolese refugees already in Tanzania.

As of 31 January, UNHCR is assisting 440,000 refugees in Tanzania, of whom 330,000 are Burundians, 101,000 are Congolese and 20,000 Rwandans.

4. North Caucasus

On Thursday, according to UNHCR monitors, 1,722 persons, including 600 new arrivals, moved to Ingushetia from Chechnya. The majority of the new arrivals were women. Men made up about 20 percent. Almost all of them were from several villages in the Urus-Martan district southeast of Grozny. When asked why they left Chechnya, they said there were no battles in their villages but groups of Chechen fighters were appearing and warned that the fighting will start very soon in their villages. Some also reported the presence of helicopter gunships in the region. The number of IDPs returned to Chechnya from Ingushetia was 849 yesterday.

On Wednesday,1,831 people arrived in Ingushetia from Chechnya via the "Kavkaz-1" crossing point, including 500 new arrivals who had not previously made the journey. Newly arrived persons were from Urus-Martan, Katar-Yurt, and Zakan-Yurt, districts located southeast of Grozny. On the same day 1,000 IDPs returned to Chechnya from Ingushetia.

The 28th UNHCR convoy of relief items left Stavropol yesterday (Thursday) for Nazran. The 21-truck convoy carried a total of 302 MT of food (wheat flour, pearl barley, millet, peas, sugar, vegetable oil) plus 163 beds. Others providing trucks in the convoy were Action Against Hunger, the Danish Refugee Council, and the Salvation Army.

According to the Federal Migration Service, by 2 February about 52,500 internally displaced people from Chechnya had moved to various other regions of Russia, far from Chechnya. Some 100,000 IDPs had returned to Chechnya, according to EMERCOM.

5. Timor

UNHCR is reviewing its repatriation program for East Timorese refugees at Tuapukan camp outside Kupang in West Timor. This follows an incident on Thursday in which militiamen forced out several families from a repatriation convoy at Tuapukan. The convoy was to transport 68 refugees out of Tuapakan for repatriation to East Timor. No injuries were reported. The incident in Tuapukan is the latest in a series of harassment of UNHCR staff and returnees. Last week, militiamen attacked two journalists and disrupted a visit by the UN administrator in East Timor. Around 135,000 refugees have returned to East Timor but since mid-December, the number of returnees has dropped substantially.

This document is intended for public information purposes only. It is not an official UN document.