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Kosovo: UNHCR ready to help people displaced by clashes

Briefing notes

Kosovo: UNHCR ready to help people displaced by clashes

18 March 2004

UNHCR welcomes the deployment of additional NATO troops in Kosovo, hoping that this will help put an end to violence and destruction of property. Over the past two days, at least 1,000 minority members, mostly Serbs, from Gnjilane, Pristina and Pec/Peja areas, have been evacuated to safety by the NATO-led Kosovo Force. Many of the houses of people evacuated by KFOR were subsequently torched by angry crowds. Churches have also been set on fire. UNHCR is working together with the UN Kosovo Mission and the OSCE and the ICRC, trying to deliver some aid to the evacuees. However, there is little we can do as all movement in Kosovo has been halted due to security concerns. UNHCR's Assistant High Commissioner, Kamel Morjane, who was in Belgrade on Thursday on a previously planned mission, had to cancel his trip to Kosovo planned for today because of security concerns.

UNHCR in Serbia proper has made contingency plans to receive possible arrivals from Kosovo. However, no significant movements have been reported so far. Yesterday, the High Commissioner appealed to Serbia and Montenegro's ethnic communities to refrain from further violence. We are extremely concerned as we believe that what has happened in Kosovo over the past two days threatens to undo years of international efforts to reconcile Serbia and Montenegro's ethnic communities. What raises additional concern is that the acts of violence have also spilled over to Serbia proper, with angry crowds setting fire to mosques in Belgrade and Nis. These mosques were never attacked before, even at the height of the Balkan wars of the 1990s.