Kosovo Crisis Update
As aid convoys and assessment teams move out daily from Pristina to the rural areas, UNHCR in the second week of its operations in Kosovo is consolidating distribution networks and health services in the war-devastated province.
On Tuesday, UNHCR opened a fifth office in Gnjilane and is sending a team to Kosovska Mitrovica to begin operations there on Thursday. UNHCR earlier opened offices in Prizren, Pec and Urosevac in addition to Pristina. The Djakovica office is expected to be up and running before the weekend, which along with the Pristina office, completes the seven regional relief centres UNHCR has planned for the province.
Meanwhile, UNHCR convoys went Wednesday from Skopje in the FYR of Macedonia to three destinations in Kosovo carrying blankets, mattresses, tents and plastic sheeting. Six trucks went to Pec, five to Urosevac and three to Prizren.
UNHCR, along with WFP, has designed an aid network primarily based on the UNHCR field office scheme. Action Against Hunger will be responsible for distribution in urban Pristina, Podujevo and Glogovac; Children's Aid Direct for rural Pristina, including Kosovo Polje; Mercy Corps International for Pec area; Catholic Relief Services for Prizren, including Suva Reka, Stimlje and Orahovac; Norwegian Refugee Council for the Kosovska Mitrovica-Vucitrn area; International Rescue Committee for Gnjilane, Vitina and Kosovska Kamenica; CARE for Urosevac and Lipljan; and Solidarité for Djakovica.
The networks will target internally displaced people, returning refugees, vulnerable Serbs and "remainees" or those who never left their homes but have had little access to food, water and other supplies during the past three months.
UNHCR and WHO are also conducting an assessment of the health care infrastructure and drawing up plans to revitalize it.
Security problems persist. In addition to the four civilians, including two British soldiers, killed in Pec on Monday, a child also died in a land mine incident outside Kosovska Mitrovica. In Pec and Kosovska Mitrovica, unknown gunmen fired at KFOR elements posted there, but no casualties were reported. Houses were reported to have been looted and burned by Albanians at the village of Grace midway between Vucitrn and Pristina.
A helicopter survey revealed that the village of Dobratin (pre-war population 2,000) was almost completely devastated.
On Monday, a UNHCR team saw three buses from the Yugoslav Red Cross filled with displaced Roma, a minority ethnic group close to Serbians, going back to Pristina from Serbia. On Tuesday, KFOR troops escorted 50 displaced Kosovo Serbs, all men, heading back to their villages around Pec.
Despite a rainstorm, some 13,100 refugees returned from the northern Albanian border crossing at Morini to Kosovo on Monday, bringing the total returns since 15 June to 125,500.
An increasing number of the returnees were renting buses, trucks, mini vans and tractor-trailers, paying as much as DM 100 per person.
At Tropoje, some 2,900 refugees were requesting transport to travel to Djakovica and Junik, across the Qafe Prushit crossing despite reports the road was heavily mined.
Meanwhile, UNHCR, WFP, Catholic Relief Services and the United Arab Emirates continue to provide assistance to the returnees. At the main distribution point in Kukes, returnees receive a one-month food package, hygienic parcels, plastic sheeting, jerry cans and bottled water. Some 180 metric tons of food is distributed daily by ADRA, Catholic Relief Services, Solidarité and MedAir.
As camps and collective centres empty in the Kukes region, an increasing number of returnees are now coming in from the southern and central parts of the country. The British contingent in AFOR, the international security force in Albania, has been directing traffic along the routes to Kukes where nearly 5,000 vehicles had passed in the last several days.
UNHCR has been pressing authorities to provide more security on the roads where bandits roam and put at risk refugees travelling during the night.
FYR of Macedonia
Around 14,900 refugees returned on Tuesday to Kosovo from the FYR of Macedonia - 6,400 at the main crossing at Blace, 8,200 at Jazince and 300 at Tabanovce.
Kosovars who had gone to their villages continued to go back to the FYR of Macedonia to pick up their families. Because many have no Yugoslav passports, UNHCR had to intervene before they could be allowed into the FYR of Macedonia.
Also on Tuesday, UNHCR briefed President Clinton during a visit at Stenkovec 1 camp, highlighting the security situation inside Kosovo. In his remarks to the refugees later, Clinton repeated UNHCR's plea to the refugees to be patient and not to rush back until their security is ensured. Clinton was accompanied by his wife Hilary and daughter Chelsea during the visit at Stenkovec 1. Security arrangements resulted in traffic jams, forcing the cancellation of a convoy to Pristina and halting departures through Blace for two hours.
Republic of Montenegro
A convoy of eight buses and 150 to 200 cars set out from Ulcinj for Kosovo on Wednesday as the displaced Kosovars in Montenegro began making their own arrangements to return after learning that hundreds of people have been travelling to the border without harassment from the Yugoslav army.
Around 2,600 Kosovo Albanians left for Kosovo earlier this week after UNHCR raised with Yugoslav authorities apprehensions of the returnees about the presence of army checkpoints along the road to the border. Of those who left, 1,200 said they were staying in Kosovo, but the others said they were making a "go-see" visit and then returning to pick up their families in Montenegro. They were heading mainly for Pec and Kosovska Mitrovica.
UNHCR-IOM Humanitarian Evacuation Programme
On Tuesday, 207 refugees left the FYR of Macedonia for the United States under the humanitarian evacuation programme of UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration. So far, 88,512 vulnerable refugees have left the FYR of Macedonia under the programme, which is undergoing review in the light of the peace agreement on Kosovo.