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Kosovo Crisis Update

Kosovo Crisis Update

26 May 1999


About 220 people crossed the Morini border on Tuesday, including 104 male prisoners released from Smrekovnica prison in northern Kosovo. The total number released from this prison over the past four days has reached around 1,300, out of a reported prison population of 3,000.

Smrekovnica is now being filled with new prisoners, according to refugee accounts. One refugee said that 690 new prisoners had been brought in on Sunday. Another refugee insisted that the number was around 1,200 and that he had counted them inside the large hall where they were located after their arrival. He said they were from four villages in Vucitrn - Bruznik, Nevoljane, Kolo and Bukos. The prisoners were reportedly forced to sign a blank sheet of paper for unexplained reasons.

The new arrivals told similar stories to the previous members of this group - widespread beatings, very little food and water. Two older men, who arrived long after the others, collapsed after crossing the border, probably because of dehydration.

The prisoners were bussed or trucked to a distance of five or six kilometres from the border and had to walk the rest of the way. On hot days like Tuesday, this last walk was very hard for them in their wasted and often battered state.

The loading and departure of the first organized NATO convoy evacuating refugees from the Kukes region went smoothly Tuesday morning, with around 200 people on board ten trucks. Ten more NATO trucks were used to ferry other relocating refugees to Fier.

From Tirana, UNHCR reports that as part of an education programme, UNHCR is looking at various surveys on the number of refugee children. One study shows that 8.5 percent of the refugee population comprises children aged from 4-6; 10.3 percent from 7-10 years; 10.3 percent from 11-14 years and 7.5 percent from 15-18 years. However, UNICEF and several NGOs estimate that these figures are conservative, and that up to 50 percent of the refugees are between the age of 3-18.

UNHCR and the World Bank have agreed to provide funds to support the cost of printing textbooks for the education programme in Albania. This project is aimed at strengthening the capacity of the education ministry to ensure formal education for refugee and local children.

UNHCR is also coordinating various psycho-social activities by NGOs, often with their own funding. UNHCR is holding weekly coordination meetings on community services, while the education ministry presides over weekly meetings on education.

FYR of Macedonia

More than 7,500 refugees arrived in the FYR of Macedonia on Tuesday, bringing to more than 30,600 the total number of new arrivals in the country since Friday when the influx resumed after one week.

The arrivals say a new and systematic wave of ethnic cleansing was taking place in Kosovo which appear to target such big cities as Pristina, Urosevac and Vitina. Trains and buses were being used by Serbian authorities in a movement similar to the first massive wave of arrivals following the beginning of NATO airstrikes in Yugoslavia on 24 March.

Of the new arrivals, more than 6,200 came through the main border crossing at Blace, 1,000 at the Jazince area and 450 at Tabanovce. Those who entered at Blace had been at the no-man's land for more than 12 hours. As soon as the area was cleared, the Serbian authorities at the Kosovo side of the border sent over another large group of Kosovars. They said that thousands had massed at the Serbian side, waiting to cross into Blace.

In the past days, three to four trainloads of people have been arriving at the Macedonian border, along with convoys of buses from the major Kosovo towns. The arrivals reported Serbian troops were going from house to house, ordering residents to leave at gunpoint, stripping them of their valuables and beating them.

Some refugees said that only those with proper documents were permitted to leave Kosovo. They said that in the last few days, as people were being expelled, police were forcing them to sign certificates stating they were leaving their residence and renouncing their citizenship of their own free will.

In another development, UNHCR has agreed to deposit $800,000 to the government Health Insurance Fund following lengthy negotiations on the cost of providing medical care for refugees. Following the deposit, the Ministry of Health will instruct clinics to resume providing health services to refugees.

UNHCR is discussing with aid agencies community services for refugees in the FYR of Macedonia. At a recent meeting, UNHCR and representatives of various non-governmental organizations discussed models for psycho-social activities and training needs. Many NGOs have already started or are planning counselling and training activities for refugees.

UNHCR has also reached agreement on enlisting faculty members at the University of Skopje to carry out topographic and pipeline surveys at Cegrane camp for use in the design of water supply pipelines and drainage trenches.

Republic of Montenegro

Some 490 Kosovars arrived on Monday in Montenegro but encountered elements of the Yugoslav army who reportedly separated 73 men from women and children. The separation was witnessed by the head of the Montenegrin special police who had discussions about it with the army authorities.

Tension has been reported along the frontier since the Yugoslav army took control of the border a week ago.

Police transported the women and children to Rozaje and the men were reportedly brought to nearby Berane.

UNHCR-IOM Humanitarian Evacuation Programme

A total of 1,562 refugees left the FYR of Macedonia under the humanitarian evacuation programme, bringing the overall departures to 63,575. The refugees went to Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal and the United Kingdom.

UNHCR has received 135,000 offers in 39 countries under the programme.