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PRESS BRIEFING BY THE SECRETARY-GENERAL'S SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE FOR HUMANITARIAN AFFAIRS IN KOSOVO

Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York

29 September 1999

The Secretary-General’s Deputy Special Representative for Humanitarian Affairs in Kosovo, Dennis McNamara, briefed correspondents this afternoon on the situation there.

Understandably, in view of events elsewhere, Kosovo had recently faded somewhat from international focus, he told correspondents. However, the United Nations remained very much concerned that the situation there remain firmly fixed on the world’s agenda. The operation was now at mid-point in a complex and difficult phase, and the approach of winter meant that an extremely testing time lay ahead in all areas -- economic, security and humanitarian. “We have some way to go, and I just hope we don’t declare total victory too soon”, he said.

The United Nations Interim Administration in Kosovo (UNMIK) had made clear progress, particularly in recent weeks, following increased troop and police deployment –- a very welcome development that needed to be sustained. But the political situation remained fragile “on all sides” -- within Kosovo and vis-à-vis Belgrade -- as did the security and humanitarian situations.

On the humanitarian front, the main challenge was to get the 800,000 or so returnees safely through another harsh winter. The United Nations, working in conjunction with other agencies, was providing repair kits and shelter kits, to house about 350,000 of those people in the 50,000 Kosovar homes that could be temporarily repaired. The kits were not elaborate – they would each fit out one basic room with plastic roofing – but although not comfortable they would be basically sustainable. There would be no major housing reconstruction in Kosovo before the winter: That was a very important message that must be disseminated, including to the Kosovars, many of whose expectations had been unduly raised, partly by the international presence and the number of agencies in the region.

As for the remaining 300,000 to 400,000 Kosovar returnees, their homes had been completely destroyed. Those people were being accommodated and would have to continue being accommodated with host families, relatives and friends, in tents and elsewhere, through the winter. That, too, would pose a difficult task. Indeed, the whole challenge of winter shelter would be fraught with problems. Logistical bottlenecks were bound to occur. “We are racing against time to get the materials in”, he said. We are racing against the winter to get the basic construction done.” Hopefully, hardships could be minimized, but it would certainly be yet another tough winter for many Kosovars.

The other major area of humanitarian concern was the question of minorities. Correspondents would have heard today of the rocket attack on a Serb marketplace just outside Pristina. Despite the best efforts of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization(NATO)- led security force in Kosovo (KFOR) and UNMIK, the civilian police and the humanitarian and human rights organizations, the United Nations and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), violent attacks continued on a regular basis against Serbs in Kosovo. Those attacks were replicated on a smaller scale, but consistently, against the Roma in some parts of Kosovo. The exodus from Kosovo of some members of those groups continued. Just recently, for example, 300,000 to 400,000 Roma had been admitted to Macedonia. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) received constant requests to evacuate Serbs, in particular from Kosovo to Serbia and Montenegro. There were no exact figures for the exodus. But, it was believed that more than 100,000 Serbs and several thousand Roma had left Kosovo for Serbia and Montenegro in recent months.

De-mining was the other major area of his responsibility, he said. So far, there were 238 documented victims of mines and unexploded ordnance in Kosovo, including 44 fatalities. That figure included four children killed and one injured by a cluster bomb. Forty per cent of those incidents were caused by unexploded ordnance, principally cluster bomblets. There were 17 de mining teams, mostly fielded by non- governmental organizations. There were also 13 working on mine awareness. The United Nations was urging KFOR to provide active assistance in that area.

A correspondent asked whether Mr. McNamara expected any kind of engagement and cooperation from the recently formed Kosovo protection corps. The same correspondent, citing reports that a large number of Bosnians had left Kosovo, asked what was being done to resettle them.

Mr. McNamara said he believed the mandate of the Kosovo protection corps committed it to being available for humanitarian assistance in remote areas. He did not see it having a direct, functional humanitarian assistance role. Perhaps it could be called on to provide trained groups for house- and roof-rebuilding, perhaps for logistical support -- access to remote areas and so forth. But, he saw no direct role for the corps. And, it had some way to go before it was either funded or functional. He had no figures on Bosnian refugees, he added. But, for minority groups in general, there was a pervasive sense of insecurity. That was not necessarily a result of direct harassment, but there was certainly a general sense of insecurity among minorities and certainly some had left or tried to leave as a result. He would check on the exact numbers involved.

On the question of destruction of or damage to housing, a correspondent asked whether there were assessments of who was chiefly responsible. Was the civil conflict to blame, or the NATO bombing? Mr. McNamara replied that there was no direct evidence of NATO responsibility. The damage was done almost entirely by Serb military and militia. There had been some collateral damage to housing in part of Pristina, but it was very minor.

Asked whether Serb housing in Kosovo remained intact Mr. McNamara replied yes, unless destroyed in acts of revenge by returning Kosovars. Some Serb and Roma housing had indeed been burned, but the damage to Kosovar-Albanian housing was systematically done by the Yugoslav armed forces and militia during the conflict.

A correspondent asked for figures on de-mining operations -- how many mines had been defused and how many remained? She further wished to know whether -- as part of KFOR’s agreement with Belgrade -- the Serb authorities had provided adequate maps of mined areas.

Mr. McNamara said that no numerical assessment of the mine problem in Kosovo had been made available. That, he believed, was intentional, because such numbers were often misleading. The Mine Action Coordination Centre estimated that the mine problem in Kosovo could be overcome in a two- to three-year period, provided support and funding continued to be available. That was the time frame they were now looking at for the teams deployed for mine clearance. The magnitude of the problem was clearly not as great as in some other conflicts. What concerned de-mining workers was the randomness of the mining and the location of some of the unexploded ordnance. He further confirmed that the Yugoslav Army had indeed provided records for 616 mined areas throughout the province. However, an unknown number of unrecorded and unmarked mined areas existed throughout Kosovo. NATO had provided the location of 333 cluster bomb drop-sites, on which a total of 1,392 bombs were dropped. The HALO Trust had just completed a survey of suspected mined areas in Kosovo, which would become the basis of the ongoing de- mining programme.

Asked whether the whole of Kosovo should therefore be considered a minefield, Mr. McNamara said, no. There were clearly designated areas, and the greatest concentration was around the border area, particularly with Albania and Macedonia.

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