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Kosovo: situation remains grave

Briefing notes

Kosovo: situation remains grave

21 January 1999

The situation in Kosovo remains grave. Tension is high in the Mitrovica area, where more civilians are on the move. UNHCR estimates that around 5,500 people have fled over the past 48 hours from three ethnic Albanian villages (Sipolje, Vaganica and Pirca) in Kosovska Mitrovica municipality, where the government launched an offensive on Wednesday after five policemen were wounded by a rocket attack in the village of Sipolje on Monday, 18 January.

The renewed tension also promped residents to flee mixed villages in the Mitrovica area. It was reported that ethnic Albanians have left the village of Panini (population: 1,500) while Serbian residents have fled the village of Svinjari (population: 900) over the past few days.

UNHCR staff visiting the Mitrovica area yesterday encountered groups of 20 to 30 civilians on foot in search of safety and shelter. Some were heading south-east toward the Cicavica hills, and others south-west toward the Drenica region. Many of the displaced people said they had been on the road since Wednesday and had spent the night in the open, some sleeping under tractor-wagons in icy weather. A UNHCR team helped evacuate one family, which included a paralyzed elderly woman. Early this morning UNHCR saw small groups of civilians on the move.

UNHCR led convoys to deliver relief aid yesterday to the villages of Topilo, Dramnjak and Petrovo in the Stimlje municipality, as well as to Urosevac, reaching those who fled the attack around the village of Racak earlier this week. The Racak area was reported quiet yesterday.