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UNHCR escorts frightened civilians to safety, Ogata renews appeal for cease-fire in Kosovo

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UNHCR escorts frightened civilians to safety, Ogata renews appeal for cease-fire in Kosovo

21 January 1999

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Sadako Ogata, renewed her appeal Thursday to end hostilities in Kosovo.

"I am distressed to see women and children once again having to abandon their homes in the middle of a harsh Balkan winter. A political solution should be found immediately to end the conflict in Kosovo," Ogata said.

UNHCR estimates that about 5,300 people have fled from the latest conflict in and around the village of Racak. Several hundred are still in the hills, exposed to snow and freezing temperatures. Some have managed to find their way to the relative safety of villages outside the immediate conflict area, but many remain in the open under makeshift shelters, afraid to approach the roads where security forces are present. At least three small children are reported to have died in the cold.

"There is a great fear among the displaced people, most of whom are women and children and some of whom have lost family members in the fighting. We need to be able to locate them and bring them to shelter before more civilians die," Ogata said.

Today three UNHCR convoys will attempt to reach displaced people in the villages of Topilo, Dramnjak and Petrovo, all in the municipality of Stimlje.

UNHCR, together with the OSCE's Kosovo Verification Mission, continues to escort women, children and the elderly to safety from insecure areas. "I consider the Kosovo Verification Mission an essential partner for the continuation of our humanitarian work," said Mrs. Ogata. "The OSCE mission has provided a sense of security to many in Kosovo. This has helped give nearly 110,000 people enough confidence to return to their villages since October. "

But the renewed outbreak of fighting since Christmas has caused more than 20,000 people to flee their homes. Overall, the Kosovo conflict has displaced well over 300,000 people, of whom 180,000 remain inside Kosovo.