Kosova reports 1998:Prishtina, Belgrade, Vienna, 10 July 1998. The International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF), in cooperation with the Kosova Helsinki Committee, Netherlands Helsinki Committee and Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia, dispatched a fact-finding mission to Kosovo to investigate the conflict situation and violations of international human rights and humanitarian law resulting from the escalation of security operations by the Yugoslav government. The mission met with members of the negotiating team appointed by Dr. Ibrahim Rugova, was refused a meeting with Serbian authorities in Prishtina on ambiguous grounds, made field trips through Serbian controlled areas on two major front lines in Kosovo, i.e., Western Kosovo and the Central Kosova region of Drenica, including the Serbian Orthodox Patriarchate in Pejë, and Kosova Liberation Army (KLA) controlled areas in Drenica.
Immediate Cease-Fire In Kosovo Essential
To Facilitate Internationally Mediated Settlement
IHF Calls For Monitoring and Preventive Force
This mission was a follow-up to the IHF's recent mission to Albania and Montenegro (13-18 June 1998), to interview Kosovar refugees in Albania and internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Montenegro forcibly displaced from their homes in the municipalities of Gjakovë, Deçan, and Pejë.
Fighting continues between FRY security-military forces and KLA units in areas visited by the mission. Western and Central Kosovo are openly affected by warfare and highly insecure. Personal security is greatly endangered, and freedom of movement is significantly limited because of continuing conflict. This is especially the case between Gjakovë and Pejë, where villages along the route illustrate a Bosnia-like pattern of ethnic cleansing and destruction of civilian property. A large fire-fight was underway while the mission was detained for one hour at the police checkpoint in Prilep. Throughout that hour, fighting involving heavy weapons, machine guns, and automatic weapons was heard from the direction of Drenoc and Voksh. The mission's freedom of movement was limited to the main road by FRY security forces for security reasons, which precluded the mission from visiting the villages of forcibly displaced Kosovar refugees which were interviewed in Bajram Curri by the IHF mission to Albania. The mission was prevented by Serbian militia from traveling to the Decani monastery to interview Serb displaced persons temporarily sheltered there. Fighting, including heavy artillery and smoke from burning houses, was noted by the mission in Loxha, only a couple of kilometers from the district center of Pejë. According to unverified field information, as many as a dozen persons from both sides were killed and wounded in Loxha.
The town of Pejë was in a high state of tension, reflected in its resemblance to a virtually deserted town, even in mid-afternoon, with most shops and public premises closed, apparently due to nearby fighting. The mission spoke with Serbian civilians who used aggressive and threatening language when speaking about the Kosovar population. The IHF fears that such ethnic tensions could quickly lead to a "civil-war" type of violence, which could spread to other urban centers, including Prishtina.
Highly flammable tensions were also evident during a visit to the Serbian Orthodox Church ex-Patriarchate, where Serbian security personnel carried Kalashnikovs on the Patriarchate grounds. In Gjakovë, the mission also saw a militia armored personnel carrier with hooded special forces.
The mission was strongly harassed at security checkpoints on the Kosovo-Montenegro administrative border near Radavc at the place called Savine Vode. At the Kosovo-Montenegro checkpoint, one mission member was verbally threatened by a militia officer. Later that night, at the checkpoint near Miloshevo, mission members were subjected to search and interrogation in which the checkpoint commander accused mission members of being Western spies and agents for the KLA. This treatment is illustrative of the substantial risks Kosovar civilians run when attempting to travel inside Kosovo. It is clear that government security forces at checkpoints are prepared to maltreat individuals based on their ethnic identity. On the final day of the fieldwork in KLA held territory, the representative of the Serbian Helsinki Committee remained in Prishtina, as the result of recommendations in relation to the missionīs meeting with the KLA.
The mission traveled to the Kishnareka area and met with the local KLA commander and officers, and internally displaced persons (IDPs) from Komoran. It is apparent that the conflict is placing the local population and IDPs under substantial stress. IDPs are being housed in crowded conditions with local families. There is a lack of basic food commodities, water, and sanitation, and medical care is virtually non-existent, except for modest efforts by Mdecins sans Frontires. These conditions are aggravated by the security cordon imposed on the area by the FRY government. There is also a substantial lack of international humanitarian presence in conflict-affected areas, contrary to President Milosevic's recent declaration from Moscow to allow unimpeded access to humanitarian organization to deliver relief materials. It is obvious that the high insecurity in the region is hampering efforts of humanitarian organizations to deliver assistance to IDPs and the local population in areas under siege.
While freedom of movement for international organizations is hampered by government security forces, the mission was able to gain a clearer picture of the widespread displacement of civilians and destruction of property caused by recent security operations. It is evident that the Kosovar civilian population has been intentionally and disproportionately targeted by security forces contrary to common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions and Protocol II (1977) concerning non-international conflict. The mission obtained information from the Council for the Defense of Human Rights and Freedoms concerning the believed abduction i.e. arrest and detention of 400 Kosova Albanians by government security forces in violation of international law, as well as reports that the KLA has detained an estimated 30 Serbian detainees. The IHF is gravely concerned that the hostage-taking and forced disappearance could become a tactic used in the conflict that would precipitate an increase in violence, placing the civilian population in still greater jeopardy.
RecommendationsThe Kosova crisis is poised on the edge of open warfare. While an increase in diplomatic involvement by Contact Group is welcome, it is insufficient in scope and scale to prevent an outbreak of full scale conflict. The Milosevic government is continuing to stall on making the necessary gestures to contribute to de-escalating tensions and creating a basis for resuming negotiations. The recent agreement to allow a small diplomatic monitoring presence is insufficient to adequately cope with the crisis conditions in Kosova. In order to preempt a further escalation in the conflict and an increase in civilian casualties and humanitarian hardship, the IHF
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- calls on the international community to deploy, and the Milosevic government to accept, a robust and large scale international monitoring mission capable of monitoring the situation in Kosova. An increased international presence will improve the prospects for de-escalating tensions and enabling international facilitation of the political processes necessary for a negotiated solution.
- calls on the FRY government to withdraw security forces from Kosova and immediately cease hostilities and implement a cease-fire. The FRY government should drawback security and military units in order to facilitate the cessation of hostilities.
- calls for the deployment of a preventive force to monitor the implementation and enforcement of a cease-fire and to replace Serbian security forces.
- calls upon the Contact Group and UN Security Council to undertake all necessary measures to prevent an outbreak of full scale war in Kosovo, as it could cause massive civilian casualties, spill over international borders, and destabilize the region.
- calls on the FRY government and Kosovar political representatives to immediately restart negotiations for a internationally mediated political solution to the conflict. The KLA leadership should make an immediate effort to play a constructive role in the negotiation process.
- calls on all parties to the conflict to abide by the Geneva Conventions regarding non-international conflict, especially with respect to hostage taking and retributions against civilian non-combatants.
- calls for unimpeded deployment of international human rights investigators and forensic experts to investigate allegations of crimes committed in conjunction with the armed conflict and security operations in Kosova.
- calls on the FRY government to immediately allow unrestricted freedom of movement to international and local humanitarian organizations to deliver relief materials and medical assistance, and to assess the condition of displaced persons.
- calls on international humanitarian organizations to increase their efforts to gain access to deliver urgently needed relief materials. Humanitarian organizations should also prepare to adequately respond to key issues such as water and sanitation, food supplies, medical care, shelter rehabilitation, and quick impact projects to alleviate the hardship produced by displacement and overburdened local resources.
- calls for the FRY government to allow immediate and unrestricted access by the ICRC to prisoners of war and other persons detained during the security operations. Likewise, the KLA should allow the ICRC immediate access to any prisoners of war or detainees being held.
Kosovo Helsinki Committee
Gazmend Pula +381-38-26 153
Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia
Sandra Sljepcevic +381-11-639 481
Netherlands Helsinki Committee
Jan ter Laak +31-30-230 2535
William Hayden +43-1-402 73 87
The International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF) is a non-governmental organization which monitors compliance with the human rights provisions of the Helsinki Final Act and its follow-up documents. In addition to supporting and providing liaison among 34 Helsinki committees, the IHF has direct links with human rights activists where no Helsinki committees exists. It criticizes human rights abuses regardless of the political system of the state where these abuses occur.