"Mitrovica is the most dangerous place in Europe". So said US Ambassador to the UN Richard Holbrooke at a news conference on 24 February.
Last Monday 21st an estimated 100,000 Albanians from all over Kosovo took part in a protest march from Pristina to Mitrovica. They were drawing attention to the division of Mitrovica, by KFOR, into Serbian and Albanian 'halves'. On arrival they were addressed by Bernard Kouchner, KFOR Commander Reinhardt and Kosovo Protection Corps Commander Ceku, who requested the protesters to leave, telling them everything would be 'all right'. The crowds were eventually dispersed by NATO Peacekeepers throwing teargas and wielding batons. They were watched by hundreds of Serbs on the northern side of the dividing river. Reportedly (Beta, Belgrade-based news agency) the Serbs on the northern side had evacuated the women and children, saying that they were 'ready for the Albanians'.
There has been speculation in the local press that Milosovic is encouraging such confrontation in Mitrovica, using the Mitrovica Serbs like 'the last of the Mohicans, forcing them to withdraw by themselves from Mitrovica, so that afterwards he films them and shows to his citizens: you see, the West doesn't like the Serbs'. (Koha Ditore 22 February). This also appears to be the assessment of Washington, with Koha Ditore reporting on 24 February that the State Department and the Pentagon had sent a message to Belgrade stating that NATO is prepared to act if Serb forces try to interfere in KFOR's operations in Kosovo. Meanwhile, Serbian leaders accuse KFOR and UNMIK of ethnic cleansing of Serbs.
Last week chairman of the Kosovo Democratic Process (PPDK) and co-chairman of the Interim Administrative Council (IAC), Hashim Thaci, met NATO SACEUR General Wesley Clark and US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Afterwards Thaci disclosed that he received assurances from Secretary Albright that the US and EU haven't lost their interest in Kosovo. State Department spokesman James Rubin said in a press briefing in Washington that Secretary Albright had told Thaci to urge Kosovar Albanians to refrain from violent and criminal acts. He added that of all the Albanian leaders, only Thaci had showed up in Mitrovica to calm things down.
The OSCE and UN Civil Administration have announced the establishment of a task force to carry out a combined civil and voter registration process in Kosovo this year. OSCE is anticipating that it will spend 90 million Euros, that is, one fifth of its year 2000 budget for Kosovo, to support preparations for and the holding of elections later this year.
UNHCR and OSCE have released their latest report on the situation of minorities in Kosovo. "The insecurity for the minority populations across the province continues unabated," The Deputy Special Representative of UNHCR in Kosovo, Dennis McNamara, told the press in Pristina. He condemned the lack of witnesses coming forward from any ethnic group. He called for more support from the international community, saying:
"The cycle of violence and further displacement will continue unless there is a change in culture."
At the same briefing Ambassador Dan Everts of OSCE said that the international community are trying to build a multi-ethnic democracy in Kosovo û but what is actually happening is a struggle for power. With eight buslines suspended [used for enabling Serbs to move from their enclaves], what we are dealing with is a besieged population.
According to local (Kosovo) press, troops are reported to be massing around the Macedonian border with Kosovo.
Extreme cold and heavy snowfalls in January have lead to additional strains being put on food, health and energy networks. Severe electricity shortages, reductions and failures were reported throughout Serbia. Some hospitals faced serious interruption of power. Temperatures in centrally heated homes in Belgrade fell to 16 degrees.
Living conditions of vulnerable groups in Serbia which have consistently been overlooked in past relief efforts, especially IDPs and refugees in private accommodation, continued to deteriorate. One of the principal problems facing these families is that, unlike collective centre residents, they are forced to purchase food and pay monthly rent of 50-100 DM in hard currency, in addition to monthly utility bills. UNHCR in Kraljevo reports the recent surge of privately accommodated families in central Serbia applying to gain a space in collective centres in order to gain access to rent-free accommodation and a reliable food source. Many families express desperation at the monthly choice between purchasing food and paying rent, as well as depression due to the sense of being abandoned by relief agencies. The immediate challenge of distributions to privately accommodated families is sheer numbers; over 90 % of the estimated 6-800,000 IDPs and refugees in Serbia are in private accommodation.
Problems are compounded by the increased international scrutiny which currently attends distributions through government agencies in Serbia and an environment which discourages NGOs from implementing traditional large-scale distributions through established government networks.
Serbia's internal blockade imposed against Montenegro increased the smaller republic's need to import from abroad, effectively increasing the vulnerable population's dependency on assistance from the international community. Social welfare institutions, pensioners, the unemployed and people on fixed incomes have been particularly affected, due to the higher costs of imported items.
SHELTER / WINTERISATION
Thirty-five trucks with different materials for the ACTG/LWF rehab project have been received. Forty trucks have been hired for transportation to the villages. Non-food items have been distributed in Dubovc village. A survey has been made of potential beneficiaries for the Emergency Winter Programme of 350 prefabs. Planning work for the Year 2000 programme is on the way.
Progress in roof construction has been made in 18 villages, with 277 rooves having been completed. Best results have been with prefab shelters with 408 sets delivered to the villages and 304 of them having been erected and made ready for use. Local purchase has been started in order to speed up material deliveries to needy families.
ACT/UMCOR are planning and preparing for the reconstruction of up to three hundred houses in the Mitrovicas area villages of Koshtova and Shipol. Materials, timber and roof tiles continue to be distributed to 14 families in Bare and Bajgora as weather permits and according to the ability of beneficiary families to continue construction. A meeting with leaders and Category 5 homeowners of these villages revealed a local capacity to implement a self-help reconstruction programme. Residents suggested that they themselves should form a Category 5 council which will list what each family could contribute to the building of their homes. It is hoped that they will generate realistic ideas and suggestions as to how the homeowners feel that they can address their housing problem.
Staff attended the UMCOR Former Yugoslavia Teambuilding Seminar and Workshop in Dubrovnik, Croatia. Along with national and expatriate managers from other UMCOR programmes in Kosovo and Bosnia the shelter programme staff learned skills and techniques for management, teambuilding, conflict resolution and programme implementation in the field of humanitarian relief and development.
Project engineers Hysejn Dobercani and Niman Dreshaj with their assistants Halim Shala and Kadri Gergjahliu continued individual house damage assessments in Shipol and Koshtova.
The hostile activities in Mitrovica which have characterised this period have lead to UMCOR having a thorough discussion of security policies and procedures, with follow-up training to take place.
Assessments are being made in new villages for Progam 2000. UNHCR has now withdrawn from shelter activities.
Despite the numerous changes in staff, delayed recruitment of the management team and heavy snow falls, Christian Aid's local engineer and Community Liaison Officer were able to carry out further assessment. Within the last two weeks Christian Aid has received substantial materials from PROMPT, allowing the first of the distributions of material vouchers to take place. They were distributred to 37 households in Reti e Ulet. In Shkoze village 27 houses are to be repaired with 41 households benefiting. Now that the weather is improving the ACT/CA warehouses are overflowing with a full range of supplies and a full complement of staff is in place. Project progress has speeded up and should continue at a better pace.
ACT/LWF activities are picking up speed after the difficulties due to heavy snowfall and hard frost. Delivery trucks from Bosnia, Macedonia and elsewhere are still having problems due to bad road conditions and traffic jams at the border crossings. Working conditions generally have improved drastically due to the installation of a secondhand generator.
All of the Winter Kit materials are received and distributed. Water/sanitation and electrical fitting kits are now being purchased locally.
In total, 588 houses are now under solid roof, while ongoing reconstruction will provide some additional 200 solid rooves. All distribution of the UNHCR roof kits is done, and the additional insulation materials will be received once roads are clear.
The engineering teams are monitoring and controlling distributions according to specifications for each house/family and at the same time acting as consultants and advisers to the local building'teams'.
Newly appointed Logistics Officer, Wayne Wright, is settling in well.
The DCA-ACT Mine Awareness team are continuing their new programme, which has emphasis on males between 15 and 90, as they fall into the high risk category for mines injuries. The Mines Action Coordination Centre has formally granted the programme an accreditation.
Mechanical mine clearing continues, although the programme has been held up somewhat by poor weather and the security situation in Mitrovica. For reasons of safety, Mitrovica itself has been declared a no-go area for DCA-ACT employees.
Twelve 40' containers have been received from UNHCR. They will be utilised as storage space, including storage for ammunition. This will save the programme an estimated 1000 DM per month in rent from March /April.
FOOD SECURITY AND AGRICULTURE PROGRAMME
An ACT/UMCOR sheep livestock recovery programme with the creation of a livestock revolving fund was prepared under the 2000 Appeal and presented to HEKS for funding. It was approved and will be implemented in the villages of Bare, Bajgore and Vidishiq. It is hoped that the programme will bring around two hundred sheep and distribute them among the same number of families.
UMCOR, LWF, CA and MCIC are to implement a joint spring kits distribution (potato and onion seed plus fertiliser) in the Mitrovica area.
The ACT/UMCOR Food Security & Agriculture Cross ûSector Coordinator, Oscar Samso, offers all ACT members guidance regarding agriculture and livestock possibilities in Kosovo. He is also happy to investigate the possibility of joint actions.
The ACT/NCA team has completed 54 wells around Mashiq . Two pumps for the Suvi Do pump station in Mitrovica north have been installed and are now operating. The pump station upgrade will be completed within February.
Water and sanitation repairs have been carried out to one of the buildings at the Roma camp in Zitkovac, which is still home to 68 people. Jan Petter Saga is administering the new camp, which houses 240 people; officially the settlement will be known as the Roma village in Cesmi Luk. Work is in progress on Migjeni Secondary School in Mitrovica township, completion expected by the end of the month. Work has been completed to schedule, including the installation of a water tank, at Muharem Bekteshi School in Scenderaj Municipality. Also in Skenderaj work is being implemented at Liria School. Five schools in the Vushtri area are having their sanitation systems rehabilitated.
The team has completed 50 wells in the area. They are continuing to repair and extend existing water lines. Repair and rehabilitation of the existing net in Drenoci, Pobergje and Junik have been carried out. The promotion group is working in Voksh village. Work is under implementation in two schools.
The team has completed Baje village and are now operating in Panorc and Llapeeve.
Fifty wells have been completed in villages in this area.
In addition to the ongoing programmes in Vushtri, Mitrovica, Pristina and Obilic areas, two new contracts were signed in February for Lapje Selo and Preoce (close to Gracanica), the first schools on the Serbian side to be rehabilitated by ACT/NCA.
ACT/UMCOR initial assessments are still underway in the target villages of Bare, Bajgora, Koshtova and Shipol. These involve initial contact and meeting with community leaders to organise and disseminate information before subsequent meeting with beneficiaries; first meeting with beneficiaries (Youth, Women and Parent-Teacher groups); second meeting with them for an informal assessment workshop; third meeting to enable incorporation of existing systems, programmes and cultural approaches.
A new programme assistant, Margita Kukalaj, has been employed. She will work in the field and is currently undergoing position and programme training.
There have been problems with attendence at assessment meetings due to difficulties with transportation and bad weather. UMCOR is hoping to obtain two pre-fabs per village for use by the women's groups and youth groups.
Impact analysis of the Educational and Psycho-Social Rehabilitation programme has shown that the participants enjoyed working in groups and discussing issues collectively.
Regular meetings are held with the HEKS Kosovo representative for programme strategies and updates.
The construction of 14 prefab community houses by ACT/LWF in seven villages in the Decani area is progressing well. Contracts have been signed by the village leaders, the school directors and one responsible village woman, who has leased the prefabs on behalf of the women and the small children of the villages who will use them for meeting rooms and playrooms respectively (without being able to stay with their small children the women would find it difficult to come to the community rooms).
There is a great impatience among the women's groups who have not been able to start meeting and working without a warm room. Altogether there are now around 500 women in 18 groups waiting for the arrival of the prefabs. Toys (teddy bears and other soft toys; picture books, etc) have been donated to the programme by east German grandparents, f or which the children are very grateful.
Most of the prefabs will be established in the school compounds. This will offer protection against uncertainties such as the danger of occupancy by homeless people. The prefabs will remain the property of LWF, and they will be taken care of by the women, until the village gets fixed community or club houses.
As a starting incentive for the knitting groups, 600 kg of pure wool has been obtained from a factory in Tetovo, Macedonia. Contacts have been made with other income generating projects in the Balkans. Because there are not any existing local markets for their products, the women will have to sell their products in European markets. The first knitted items are now ready. Social Development are currently wishing to make contact with any organisation who can assist the women's groups in the field of marketing and export.
This month the Social Development Coordinator started the first three day basic course in social work. This has been identified as a priority due to the widespread lack of knowledge of even basic principles and methods of social work as an aid to the self-help process. Topics covered include social work principles, target groups, fields of social work and the casework concept. This course enabled identification of barriers to self-help; the principal of these being: a lack of understanding of the meaning of the term 'self-help'; being unused to participative methodologies; being overwhelmed by the wide range of problems with which social work attempts to deal.
In the last month LWF social assistants have assessed 210 families needing special support in their villages . Since two cars have been made available, one each for Decane and Mitrovica, the social assistants are able to procure for the most needy items that are not available in the warehouses, like pyjamas, underwear, fresh fruit and vegetables.
Violence perpetrated on the most vulnerable and weakest is increasing rapidly in Kosovo. Signs of prostitution and trafficking of women have been observed. The coordinator has made initial contacts with the UNMIK police division of investigation and the OESC Desk of Human Rights. Urgently needed are secret shelters for women who have suffered violence, and special counselling for them. Also needed is a public education campaign about the dangers of traffickers.
LWF has coordinated its activities with UMCOR social services. It has been agreed that ACT/LWF Social Development will take care of women and children's groups, special support for needy families, violence towards women and gynaecological help in those villages in which LWF and UMCOR work.
UMCOR will concentrate on youth work, the establishment of youth houses and the support of youth organisations. NCA is supporting a basketball school and a music class in Pristina and has asked Social Development for help with these projects.
The Macedonian Center for International Cooperation (MCIC), ACT partner in Skopje, have been awarded by the Ecology Press Centre for its work to protect the quality of water in Macedonia's capital.
The award was made as the result of votes cast by national television viewers and newspaper readers. It noted MCIC's contribution to solving water waste problems around the underground lake which supplies the city's water system. The waste purification project is due to be completed in the next few weeks.
Serbia and Montenegro
Despite inclement weather the importation and delivery of the International Orthodox Christian Charities' (IOCC) family food parcels and family hygiene parcels was able to continue. IOCC Podgorica added two new distribution partners in January 2000 to augment its distribution network; the Catholic Church and the Union of Workers of Montenegro. Work through three Catholic parishes (Tivat, Budva and Sutomore) will primarily reach displaced Roma people and socially vulnerable refugees, while the Union of Workers will target unemployed single mothers and other especially vulnerable people in Podgorica, Ulcinj, Niksic, Pljevlja and Murino.
As a pilot project, IOCC Belgrade have directly distributed 4,464 supplementary food family parcels, 4, 470 supplementary family hygiene parcels and 1,000 children's clothing sets to IDP and refugees in 12 municipalities with large concentrations of privately accommodated IDPs and refugees. Depending on monitoring results, IOCC may increase this type of intervention.
IOCC specifically targeted municipalities where it has previously established effective distribution partnerships, including local government agencies which have consistently demonstrated a commitment to transparency. The local partners selected by IOCC have conducted extensive distributions to privately accommodated families in the past; IOCC combined their resources and expertise with its own distribution systems and on-site supervision to ensure accuracy and final accountability.
Many beneficiaries commented that this was the first such assistance they have received: although the Yugoslav Red Cross distributes bulk flour, rice and sugar to privately accommodated families, this assistance comes monthly or bi-monthly and is not as comprehensive as the supplementary parcel distributed by IOCC. Furthermore, the overwhelming majority of these families did not receive any hygiene assistance prior to IOCC's intervention.
In all municipalities, including the few where families receive one-off or monthly distributions of food and hygiene from Yugoslav Red Cross, recipients noted that IOCC's parcels allowed them to divert extremely limited funds to other necessities such as shelter or clothing.
IOCC continued distributions to collective centres, covering 53 centres in 23 municipalities. Refugees from villages surrounding Jagodina requested emergency aid from IOCC, saying that the local Red Cross is not able to distribute food more than once a month.
In collective centre Jabucje, Lajkovac municipality, refugees are living in the worst possible conditions: there are no sanitation facilities and people are foreced to bring drinking water through snow and ice from the wells in the local village. In the municipalities of Valjevo, Lajkovac and Ub, IOCC is the only agency distributing food and hygiene to refugees and IDPs in collective centres.
ACT in School
Fadil Krasniqi is the Director of the 'Hero of Kosovo' School in Brestovic.
What does that mean?
"It means I am responsible for everything!"
ACT/Christian Aid began its programme here in October 1999, with valued imputs from CIMIC and KFOR. When people came back from exile at the end of the war they found their school totally destroyed.
"The children in particular found it very difficult to see the school this way'', said Fadil.
This month saw the reopening of Brestovic school, and the pupils celebrated with a small party attended by ACT and CA.
Brestovic is a village near Rahovec with a population of 3,500, that is, over 300 families. The school has four hundred pupils. One of their outstanding needs is a means of teaching English to the children, and Fadil is appealing for a volunteer teacher.
"For the future', says Fadil, "I want the children to get the right education. I want the region to develop economically. Every day in the eyes of the pupils I see the future. I thank every foreign organisation here because they have done a lot for the pupils and have brought a smile to their faces. Thank you."
Also this month, ACT partner Ecumenical Humanitarian Organisation began to provide breakfasts at the Veljko Vlahovic school in the Shangaj suburb of Novi Sad in Serbia. The pupils are mainly the children of refugees and factory workers. Hyper-inflation has meant that very often parents cannot afford to give their children a morning meal. The breakfasts, a pastry stuffed with cheese called burek, have proved very popular with the children - there are never any leftovers!
The school is situated next to a large oil refinery which was the target for NATO bombardments, and many of the children are still suffering trauma from this period. Even scheduled flights on their way to or from Belgrade airport can seriously frighten them.
Raicic Zeljko is eleven years old and has been a pupil at Veljko Vlahovic since he was five. He enjoys the high-status position of catering monitor, responsible for seeing that everyone gets their breakfasts, and for tidying away afterwards. He understands English from watching movies on television!
"I am very happy about these breakfasts. In the past we had to pay 5 DM per month..my father's salary is only 50 DM, and some children, their parents are not working at all. I came from Croatia with my parents and uncle in 1995. We came to avoid the fighting. When the bombardment started here we used to get in the car, the whole family, every night, and drive away as far as possible, then sleep in the car. I don't like to talk about it.
"I am told I am good in school and the girls like me! When I'm grown up I want to be a driver like my dad."
Pictures from the schools at Brestovic and Novi Sad are available from Jane Connolly (see below).
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
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.