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Kosovo: humanitarian situation rapidly deteriorating

Briefing notes

Kosovo: humanitarian situation rapidly deteriorating

11 March 1999

Just days before the Kosovo peace talks are scheduled to resume the humanitarian situation in the province is rapidly deteriorating. Every day brings more displacement, destruction and despair.

On Thursday, the High Commissioner, Mrs Sadako Ogata, warned Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic that Kosovo will slide toward disaster unless the Serbian military, paramilitary and police forces are reined in. She said she was deeply concerned about the fate of Kosovo's Albanian and Serb civilian population.

Heavy fighting continued Thursday in parts of the Vucitrn area and reports suggest parts of the Podujevo area saw renewed violence.

Military activities and fighting in the Prizren area have escalated significantly since Wednesday. This has resulted in further or repeated displacement.

At dawn Thursday the Yugoslav troops entered the village of Hoca Zagradska causing between 3,000-3,500 civilians to flee towards Prizren. They went back to the village several hours later after being stopped by the police from entering the town, only to flee again later in the day when heavy gun fire rocked a nearby village. The group was again prevented from reaching Prizren and later returned to the village. UNHCR and OSCE were barred from the area during the day but international monitors were finally allowed in last night and reported that the area was calm.

All indications suggest large numbers of internally displaced may be in the open in Kacanik municipality in southern Kosovo. Difficult terrain and inaccessible locations have thwarted continuing UNHCR efforts to locate and assist these displaced. For the third day in a row, UNHCR field teams have been searching for displaced from the villages of Ivaja, Pustenik , Straza and Gajre. Several of these villages are not only empty but nearly all houses have been burned to the ground.