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Kosovo: villages empty, people freezing in the open

Briefing notes

Kosovo: villages empty, people freezing in the open

2 March 1999

Thousands of people were staying with host families or out in the open in the freezing Balkan winter on Monday, fearing clashes between security forces and the Kosovo Liberation Army along Kosovo's south-eastern border with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYR). Mother Teresa Society workers and evacuees said about a dozen villages within a five-kilometre border area in Kacanik were 50 to 100 percent empty. UNHCR teams have seen at least six of the empty villages. In some of them, only men remained. International monitors reported hearing firing again last night from this area in Kacanik municipality.

UNHCR on Monday saw about 500 people, mostly women and children from Gajre camping on a nearby snow-covered mountainside, pitching plastic tents and making fires. They said they had spent the night in the woods. UNHCR transported 10-day-old twin babies who were ill because of exposure to the icy weather to the nearby village of Kovacevac for medical treatment. UNHCR is arranging delivery of aid for these people. UNHCR and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe-Kosovo Verification Mission were looking into the possibility of moving them to a safer area.

The ethnic Albanian-run Mother Teresa Society told UNHCR at least 3,000 people were with host families near the border crossing point with the FYR of Macedonia called General Jankovic. UNHCR saw some families packed into houses, each hosting as many as 30 to 50 evacuees. Conditions were appalling - no heating or sanitation facilities. UNHCR is delivering aid there Wednesday.

The Red Cross in the FYR of Macedonia has registered 600 Kosovars who crossed at Jazince into Tetovo beginning on 26 February, when the displacement toward the FYR of Macedonia began. Another 600 who had travel papers went into Macedonia via the General Jankovic crossing point on Sunday. They were all staying with host families in the FYR of Macedonia.

On Sunday, a police officer was killed and four others were wounded at Gajre (Kacanik) in what was described by Serbian police as a provocation by the KLA and the cause of the outbreak of the fighting and the new wave of displacement.