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Kosovo Crisis Update

Kosovo Crisis Update

17 May 1999


For the first time since the crisis began in late March, no refugees crossed the Morini border point into Albania Sunday, according to early morning field reports received on Monday. On Saturday, just 23 Kosovars entered the country.

Until recent days Morini had been the major exit point for Kosovars fleeing the conflict. The bulk of the more than 400,000 refugees currently in Albania had escaped through that mountainous crossing.

However, in the last few days the numbers had dropped off precipitously though the few people who did cross said that in the hills there were still many thousands of people who were running dangerously low on food and who were being constantly harassed by Serbian military operations.

It remained unclear whether Serbian authorities were now deliberately stopping Kosovars from reaching Albania; whether the Kosovars themselves had decided to stay where they were for the moment; or whether they were simply waiting for a better opportunity to cross into Albania. It is also possible that NATO activity in the area has been a factor.

The drop off in numbers of people crossing has coincided with an increase in NATO airstrikes in the immediate border zone. From Morini it is possible to see regular air strikes being carried out just a few miles inside Kosovo territory.

More than 5,000 refugees left Kukes over the weekend for points south, 2,972 on Saturday and another 2,157 departed Sunday. They included a few hundred persons from the various camps who responded specifically to UNHCR's ongoing information campaign to move refugees from the Kukes area to other parts of the country for security reasons.

It was announced that U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan would visit Kukes for several hours on May 20, during a one-day visit to Albania. He will tour one of the camps to meet with the refugees.

UNHCR, NATO and other interested NGOs continue to work on an overall plan to move the great majority of refugees from the tented camps in Kukes - still an estimated 30,000 - to points south.

Among the refugees who arrived Saturday were 15 men who said they were forced from their villages in the Suva Reka area at the end of March by the Serbian authorities. Since then they had been moving around the region in the hills and mountains with their families, but were finally driven out of the country by continuing military activity.

As they passed through one town, Stimlje, they were separated from their families, they said, corroborating a story told by refugees who crossed in preceding days. They said that at one point they were held in a shoe factory in Urosevac, where there were around 100 people - men, women and children. The arriving refugees said everyone in the factory had been beaten. As they continued to move, first to Prizren and then to the border, they were beaten again, they said, and they did indeed bear the marks of physical abuse. They estimated there were as many as 25,000 people in the area around Stimlje who want to leave.

In another development, UNHCR last week received 64 water bladders from the Dutch government. They are to be put on flatbed trucks and will help ease water shortages in the camps. UNHCR plans to bring up the per capita water supply level to 10 litres of potable water and 10 litres for washing. Each bladder has a capacity of 10,000 litres and thus can supply 500 people per day.

FYR of Macedonia

The refugee flow into the FYR of Macedonia resumed this weekend. On Saturday, around 300 refugees crossed the border at Blace and 47 arrived at Tabanovce. On Sunday, 983 refugees entered Blace and another 60 came in at Tabanovce.

Most of the arrivals came by train. They said no one had gone to FYR of Macedonia over the last week because radio and television reports said the border was closed. But when they heard that some people had crossed on Friday, they decided to leave. They said many more people were in desperate condition and would try to make a break for the FYR of Macedonia.

Arrivals from Kosovo's Vitina area east of Urosevac estimated that at least 40,000 were in the area surrounded by Serbian forces, and that they were unable to leave. Food shortages were reported. One woman told UNHCR that Albanians were only allowed to buy bread and only if it was available. Generally, Albanians were not allowed to go on the streets, she said.

There were also alarming reports of three places in Urosevac - a factory, a school and a barn - where the Serbian military kept weapons and where civilians were allegedly held as human shields. The reports could not be confirmed independently.

Elsewhere in the FYR of Macedonia, the Norwegian Red Cross has opened a field hospital at the newly established Cegrane camp. The hospital, which has 100 beds, includes a surgical suite, labour and delivery unit, and in-patient wards for men, women and children.

There have been no epidemics, but aid workers have begun preparations for setting up isolation wards in the major camps in the event of outbreaks of diseases with the approaching summer when the risk of epidemics will be high.

Conditions have improved at Radusa camp. Refugees there are getting 40 to 50 litres of water per person per day, have showers and receive three hot meals per day. There are six doctors from the Bulgarian and the Macedonian Red Cross. A UNHCR warehouse is being set up to be used as recreation centre for children. A second tent will be set up as a women's centre, and will include a library for the Albanian women's organization.

Republic of Montenegro

It has been reported that the Yugoslav army moved late on Friday to take control of the border crossing between Montenegro and Albania.

From displaced Kosovars who had been trying to cross the border, UNHCR first learned that the Yugoslav army had established a checkpoint a few kilometres before the border. They then stopped seven buses carrying Kosovars heading for the border.

The soldiers reportedly arrested 100 to 150 men, aged between 16 and 55, who were then taken back to Kosovo. Some of the other passengers, mainly women and children, crossed to Albania, while others were sent back to Ulcinj and Tuzi. As of Sunday, the Montenegro authorities had no information on the whereabouts of the arrested men.

UNHCR-IOM Humanitarian Evacuation Programme

Departures under the humanitarian evacuation programme on Saturday were 1,212 and 1,246 on Sunday. This brought the overall total of departures from the FYR of Macedonia to third countries to more than 49,800.

The departures over the weekend were to Australia, Austria, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Norway and Italy.

Under the programme UNHCR has received offers for 135,000 places in 39 countries.