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Ogata says situation deteriorating in Kosovo, urges action to avert disaster

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Ogata says situation deteriorating in Kosovo, urges action to avert disaster

11 March 1999

"The humanitarian situation on the ground is deteriorating rapidly despite the ongoing diplomatic efforts. Civilians are again forced to spend bitter nights in the open," Mrs. Ogata said during her visit in Washington D.C. "I fear that the scale of violence and displacement would only increase unless there is a breakthrough in reaching a political settlement."

Armed clashes continued throughout Kosovo in the past two weeks, causing thousands of people to flee their homes. On Wednesday, a UNHCR team saw hundreds of newly-displaced villagers who fled a military action by the security forces in the Kotlina area, 50 kilometres south of Pristina. More were trapped in the woods unable to reach safety. In the nearby hamlet of Drosec, only a few looted houses remained structurally intact, others were burned to the ground and smouldering.

"The shelling and intimidation by the security forces and the Yugoslav Army are not only causing Albanian villagers to flee, but are fuelling a cycle of violence and fear," Ogata said. "I am also very concerned about the plight of the Serb civilians who fear the actions of the Kosovo Liberation Army."

Mrs. Ogata said she had written to President Slobodan Milosevic again, recalling his earlier commitment to ensure that the security forces refrain from repressive action against the civilian population.

UNHCR-led convoys go out daily to deliver aid to affected communities throughout Kosovo, but the sporadic fighting and the constant flight of civilians pose a challenge to relief activities. "We desperately need a political solution to put an end to this humanitarian crisis and avert disaster," Ogata added.

More than 60,000 people have been displaced since late December, including almost 30,000 people since the peace talks held last month in Rambouillet, France. Some have managed to return, but more than 230,000 people remain displaced within Kosovo. In all, the year-long conflict has driven 400,000 people out of their homes. Many have had to flee more than once.