Kosovo: High Commissioner shocked and horrified by Racak killings
The High Commissioner has expressed her shock and horror at the killings which took place in Racak in Kosovo, and has called on the parties to stop fighting before a humanitarian catastrophe occurs. A press statement was issued to this effect in Geneva on 18 January.
UNHCR teams set out this morning to try to reach about 1,000 people reported to be out in the woods, trapped by the fighting in villages south of Pristina. A convoy loaded with relief supplies, including food, blankets, plastic sheeting and mattresses, is standing by and will go to the area if the teams find the people in the woods south of the village of Malopolje. These people fled a government offensive in Racak and other nearby villages (in the Stimlje municipality) over the weekend.
UNHCR staff talked to some of the newly displaced on Monday. A group of 29 people told us that they left the woods early Monday morning, and reached the village of Dramnak after walking for five hours. The group consisted mostly of women and children - 11 between the ages of 2 months and 24 months old. They said that while they were in the woods two infants died of the cold, and that between 60 and 70 families were still trapped there by the fighting. The group said they had tried to go back to their villages several times during the weekend but each time had to turn back because of gunfire and mortar blasts.
UNHCR estimates that about 5,300 people have fled Racak and nearby villages. International verifiers have told us that the offensive in the Racak area appears to be widening. Late yesterday there were reports of shelling in some villages in Suva Reka and Glogovac. The Racak killings have caused tension in other villages and our staff report that in areas near the conflict zone women and children are moving out to stay with relatives in villages farther south.
The current offensive has obviously set back gains which had been made since the October ceasefire agreement. The Kosovo Verification Mission under the leadership of Ambassador William Walker had begun to make a difference with its even-handed approach to a complex situation. Tens of thousands of people have returned to their homes where there is a KVM presence. One example is Malisevo, which had been abandoned by its 3,000 residents. More than half of the people of Malisevo are back and the town remains relatively stable, despite the events of the past week. The High Commissioner reiterates her confidence in the leadership of Ambassador Walker and the importance she attaches to co-operation with the KVM for UNHCR's humanitarian mission.