Bosnia and Herzegovina + 3 more

USCR Special Report: Crisis in Kosovo 10 Jan 2000

Situation Report
Originally published
The 1990s have drawn to an end, but a decade of pervasive conflict in the former Yugoslavia has taken a truly disproportionate toll. Nearly one tenth of the combined population of Bosnia Herzegovina, Croatia and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) -a UNHCR-estimated 1.7 million people- remain displaced and in need of a lasting solution.

This past year brought war to the FRY territories of Serbia and Montenegro, which had until then been spared. The massive exodus of over 800,000 ethnic Albanians out of the Kosovo province in April 1999 was matched by their equally dramatic repatriation following the June cease-fire agreement. But since then, large numbers of ethnic Serbs and Roma have in turn been displaced, mostly into Serbia proper, Montenegro and Bosnia. UNHCR puts the number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Serbia proper and Montenegro at 242,000, including 13,400 "double refugees" from Bosnia and Croatia. The total comprises an estimated 40,000 to 50,000 Roma. Many among the remaining Serb populations in Kosovo reside in newly formed ethnic enclaves, rather than in their original homes. UNHCR also estimates that there remain in Kosovo 600 ethnic Serb refugees from the conflicts in Bosnia and Croatia.

Serbia proper was already home to nearly half a million refugees from previous conflicts in the region. Although about 44,000 refugees have returned to Bosnia and Croatia since 1992, another 42,000 have been granted FRY citizenship (as of November 1998), and 15,000 have resettled to third countries, there remain in Serbia some 183,000 refugees from Bosnia and 293,000 from Croatia - including 50,000 from Eastern Slavonia. In contrast to the refugees, mostly concentrated in the northern province of Vojvodina, the 195,000 fresh arrivals from Kosovo have tended to congregate in central and southern Serbia.

In Montenegro, the 48,000 IDPs have added to an existing caseload of 17,000 refugees from Bosnia and 6,000 from Croatia. Mounting political tension between Serbia and Montenegro, including the blocking of certain trade flows, has heightened regional instability, and exposed at least one minority to new vulnerability: the Muslim population of the border Sandjak area.

In Federation areas of Bosnia, there remain 487,000 Bosnian IDPs, 8,000 Kosovo refugees, and as many as 15,000 Sandjak residents who moved during the NATO air campaign. As to Republika Srpska, UNHCR reports 344,000 Bosnian IDPs and 40,000 refugees from Croatia, including 10,000 who resided in the FRY until the recent conflict.

Croatia still hosts 43,000 IDPs and 27,000 refugees from Bosnia and the FRY; Macedonia, 22,000 FRY refugees, half of whom are from Kosovo; and Albania, 3,000 Kosovo refugees.

The Kosovo crisis has resulted in a surge in the number of asylum applications to European countries in 1999: the average number of monthly asylum applications submitted by FRY citizens in the first three quarters of 1999 was 38% higher than in the corresponding period of 1998. On the other hand, temporary protection schemes set up for Kosovo refugees in various European countries have for the most part been terminated, and repatriation is well underway.

The United States has set up a processing center in Timisoara (Romania) for the resettlement of up to 10,000 ethnic Serbs. The resettlement program is focused on certain particularly vulnerable groups, such as the "double refugees" from Bosnia and Croatia who had been living in collective centers in Kosovo.


International forensic teams are still amassing evidence of war crimes and ethnic cleansing perpetrated by Serb military and paramilitary forces in Kosovo. Furthermore, the International Committee of the Red Cross has located 2,000 ethnic Albanians currently in detention in Serbia, and is actively engaged in securing their release.

A pressing concern expressed by a joint UNHCR/OSCE assessment is renewed violence against those ethnic Serbs, Roma, Muslim Slavs who have remained in the province, as well as moderate ethnic Albanians. Amnesty International reports that the current rate of "murder, abduction, violent attack, intimidation and house burning" nearly reaches the level of last June when international administration began: 24 murders were reported in the first week of December alone. International Criminal Tribunal prosecutors have been monitoring possible "ethnic cleansing" carried out under the guise of spontaneous reprisals.

A protracted face-off between the ethnic Albanian and Serbian communities of Mitrovica epitomizes the dilemma faced by the international community, intent on promoting multi-ethnicity while ensuring the physical safety of minority groups. Ethnic Serbs have tended to congregate into enclaves, improving their security but compounding the displacement problem. There are only 600 Serbs left in the city of Pristina (3 percent of the pre-war population). Other large ethnic Serb communities are found mostly in the northern municipalities of the province (September 1999 estimates): Pristina (10,000), Mitrovica (12,000), Zvecan (11,000), Lipljan (10,000) and Strpce (9,000). This has created in the eyes of some observers a de facto blueprint for future partition of Kosovo. The largest concentration of Roma is in Urosevac town (4,000). Other minorities, such as the ethnic Turks, Muslim Slavs and Bosniaks of Kosovo, are also under pressure.

Recent calls for reconciliation by leaders of the Kosovo Serbs have been welcomed by the international community. Two factors complicate the security situation in Kosovo: in cities, the virtual absence of job prospects for minorities; and everywhere, the problematic demobilization of KLA fighters. As a partial remedy to the latter, the UN has been encouraging the hiring of these men into community civil reconstruction efforts. The international police force still doesn't exceed 2,000 officers, only one third of a target set several months ago. Training of an indigenous multi-ethnic police has also begun, graduating some 170 cadets by year's end.

Protection concerns also exist in Presevo, Bujanovac and Medvedja, municipalities of southern FRY with significant ethnic Albanian populations. Local families have been pressured to leave their homes.


The UN Consolidated Inter-Agency Appeal for the Southeastern Europe Humanitarian Operations identified regional priorities for the deployment of the $ 660 million budget requested for 2000. In Albania, Kosovo, and Macedonia, the primary focus will be on tackling the lingering effects of the refugee crisis. Bosnia and Croatia, relatively spared in this regard, must carry on the implementation of the post-Dayton program. Non-Kosovo Yugoslavia faces a particularly perplexing situation, combining the aftermath of last year's conflict, post-Dayton follow-up and the continuing effects of sanctions and economic decline on the population at large.

In Kosovo, it is expected that food aid will be required until at least Spring 2000 in areas worst affected by the shortfall in wheat production. The World Food Program feeds almost 900,000, including stocking up 180 remote villages for the entire winter period.

Kosovo's heavily damaged power grid is still under repair. The urban population is particularly ill-prepared for the rigors of the cold season which is setting in. As many as 500,000 need accommodation assistance, and most houses had not been reconstructed by the time snow began to fall in December. UNHCR, the European Union and USAID have distributed emergency shelter kits to 124,000 beneficiaries and roofing packages to 51,630; and collective center capacity for 20,000 has been identified. The UN has also designated three vulnerable groups as eligible for emergency financial support: households comprising elderly, single parents, and disabled family members.

USAID estimates that relief supplies have been flowing into the province at a rate of 114 trucks a day. Recent snowfall, however, has sharply slowed down the traffic, notably at the Blace border crossing. While Kosovo's deteriorated highways are saturated, the newly operational rail line and road bridge between Pristina and Peja should help ease congestion. A more pervasive issue has been lengthy delays in the clearing vital relief goods at the Macedonian border. In the hope of precluding any strategy of non-cooperation, a new agreement has reportedly been reached with the Macedonian authorities to ensure that priority treatment be once again extended to emergency convoys over commercial traffic.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has taken on a transitional role equivalent to that of a ministry of health. Hundreds of thousands of mines and unexploded ordnance scattered about the small province and neighboring northern Albania are a source of pressing danger. The UN reports that in spite of intensive awareness-raising efforts, 61 people have been killed and 255 injured since June 12. Furthermore, tuberculosis and respiratory infections are said to threaten, and WHO has expressed concern over the mental health consequences of the conflict, acutely affecting an estimated 4 percent of the population.

Infrastructural damage wrought by the bombing campaign has had a grave impact on civilian life in Serbia proper and Montenegro. The UN Humanitarian Coordinator has warned that "the prospect of very large electricity outages remains very real." The country's ever-worsening economy sharpens the emergency: the UN estimates that the population of Serbia and Montenegro living under the poverty line has reached 35 percent. While USCR's recent mission to the country did not detect signs of imminent starvation, the UN admits that little is known about the nutritional situation in Serbia. Approximately 50,000 refugees and IDPs live in less-than-adequate conditions in some 500 collective centers throughout the FRY, often former specialized institutions such as schools and cultural houses. It is feared that as the degrading situation may force many out of private accommodation, straining even further the already severely stretched capacity of such centers.

In contrast to the substantial international presence in Montenegro, humanitarian efforts in Serbia are hampered by the country's diplomatic isolation as well as lack of clarity in the legal status of non-governmental organizations. UNHCR and ICRC/IFRC have played a key role in providing relief to the worst off, but their 2000 budgets may be under threat as international donors have not reached agreement on relief to Serbia. The UN special human rights rapporteur has even warned of a "humanitarian disaster" lest sanctions on the country are eased. The European Union, which has taken the lead in lifting sanctions on Montenegro and Kosovo, is also providing limited quantities of heating oil to two opposition-led Serbian municipalities, Nis and Pirot.

United Nations experts from the Balkans Task Force (BTF) have completed their assessment of the environmental impact of the conflict in various locations throughout Yugoslavia. They have singled out four "environmental hot-spots" in Serbia posing immediate threat to human health. The BTF report also calls upon NATO countries urgently to provide information on their alleged use of depleted uranium weapons during the bombing campaign.


A reported 335 humanitarian agencies are present on the ground in Kosovo, mostly seeking to address the emergency needs of the population in cooperation with UNHCR and the local Mother Teresa Society distribution network. But the international community has also established a unique, integrated apparatus of direct civil administration, UNMIK. Specific responsibility for humanitarian affairs, institution building and reconstruction is devolved to UNHCR, the OSCE and the European Union respectively. The objective is to work with the local political leaders to develop multi-ethnic institutions.

Recent UNMIK initiatives have included the creation of the Kosovo Bank Authority, a regulatory institution which eventually will be allowed to directly extend loans to the economy. Two Kosovo donors conferences have resulted in a total pledge in excess of $ 3 billion, one third of which has already been absorbed by emergency humanitarian spending. While the amount committed is globally sufficient to fulfill needs through the end of 2000, UNMIK itself, with a projected staff of 64,500 (including 48,000 KFOR troops already deployed), remains dangerously under-funded, according to its head, Bernard Kouchner.

A lengthy reconstruction effort lies ahead for Kosovo: the World Bank has assessed the physical damage alone at $ 1.2 billion. But, as repeatedly emphasized by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, the challenge is not only financial. Stability in Kosovo will crucially depend on the rebuilding of the legal system, and how effectively minority rights are upheld in the province. UNMIK is currently redrawing the entire legal system and appointing 450 new judges and prosecutors. OSCE will assist democratic capacity-building, with a view to holding elections in September 2000; an ongoing population registration effort is the initial step.

This update is compiled from organizational reports and the press.

Copyright 1999, USCR