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UNHCR suspends operations in North Mitrovica

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UNHCR suspends operations in North Mitrovica

23 June 2000

Following renewed attacks against international humanitarian staff and vehicles in North Mitrovica yesterday, UNHCR announced an initial 48-hour suspension of all humanitarian activities in North Mitrovica (Kosovo).

"Over the past months, the level and frequency of attacks on humanitarian staff, damage to vehicles, and threat to humanitarian operations in North Mitrovica has been totally unacceptable." said Dennis McNamara, UNHCR Special Envoy, "As we made clear last month, we are not prepared to continue to have the safety of our own staff and our agency partners put in constant jeopardy."

The initial 48-hour suspension period began at midnight on Thursday, 22 June. All UNHCR staff and vehicles have been relocated to the south and the UNHCR office closed in North Mitrovica. The suspension will be reviewed after the initial 48-hour period following assessments of the security situation on the ground with UNMIK, UN Police, KFOR and field staff. UNHCR is also requesting that Mr. Oliver Ivanovic, self-proclaimed leader of North Mitrovica, publicly denounce this violence and to take more vigorous action to prevent it from recurring.

Since 2 February, when a clearly-marked UNHCR bus was attacked by a rocket-propelled grenade, five UNHCR-marked vehicles have been burned and two others badly damaged. UNHCR and NGO international and local staff have been threatened and in some cases had to be evacuated from extremely dangerous, life-threatening situations. In addition, dozens of other UN and NGO vehicles and staff have been targeted in numerous acts of mob violence. UNMIK Police, as well as KFOR, have often borne the brunt of these attacks. On 29 April, over 20 UN Police cars and at least four humanitarian vehicles were damaged or destroyed. Yesterday, these attacks continued despite a well-coordinated response by both KFOR and UNMIK, with at least five vehicles totally destroyed, over 20 vehicles damaged, six separate reported attacks on UN international residences in North Mitrovica and the physical assault of an international aid worker.

Despite extensive investigations, no one has been held responsible for these attacks over the past four months. "Humanitarian workers may not be specifically targeted, but they are often caught in the fray of street thuggery rule which regularly erupts." McNamara said, "There has to be more accountability for this violence which we have not faced during our operations helping all affected populations in Bosnia and elsewhere in recent years. For over a decade we have worked to help vulnerable persons on all sides regardless of ethnicity, we continue to maintain activities in Bosnia, Croatia, Albania and in Serbia, where UNHCR has its largest programme in Europe for over 500,000 refugees and displaced persons. Nowhere else in the region are we facing anything like this."

UNHCR, with implementing partner NGOs, provides food and non-food aid in the area of North Mitrovica, both to the larger displaced Serb population and the isolated ethnic-Albanian population who make up a small minority in the divided municipality. Additionally, UNHCR has built a camp for the displaced Roma community living in the North Mitrovica, managed by Norwegian Church Aid. These vulnerable populations will not be affected by the initial suspension because they recently received assistance.