Fernando del Mundo arrived in Kosovo for UNHCR
August 16 - September 30, 1998
agreed to allow humanitarian agencies free access to
the region’s war-affected people. Following are highlights/cutted
from his diary about what happened next:
August 16: Attempted to deliver emergency supplies to 100 displaced
people in Decane but by the time we arrive they had vanished. Returning
to Pristina, we see groups of 100-200 people along theVistrica River and
local aid workers say there are 10,000 homeless in the area. It is still
summertime and fruits and vegetables are plentiful but the signs of war
are everywhere: rotting crops, the carcasses of machine-gunned
livestock, clusters of ruined stone houses.
August 18: A Kosovo Liberation Army commander accuses UNHCR
staff of being spies as we try to deliver aid to 20,000 people in central
Kosovo. A local doctor is treating 100 people per day, 90 percent of
them children stricken with diarrhea. Their distended bellies remind me
of Africa’s malnourished children.
August 25: Three Mother Teresa Society workers are killed when seven
tractor trailers loaded with UNHCR emergency supplies are blasted by
artillery rounds. Passing by Pagarusa, a 34-year-old mother tells me the
child she is carrying was born in the woods five weeks earlier. She is
still looking for her two other children who were separated from her when
her village was shelled.
August 29: Two colleagues and I visit Senik which was hit the day
before. Houses still smoulder. Tractor trailers filled with food and
personal possessions are ablaze. At least 17 people were killed in the
attack. The villagers ask us to stay on to deter snipers as they bury their
dead in the rain. Among the victims is a two-week old baby who died of
starvation because her wounded mother could not feed her.
September 1: Orahovac was abandoned in July, but the government
says 30,000 people have returned from the woods and things appear
normal with shops open. It is the first sign that people, though still
scared, are going back.
September 4: There were 5,000 people on a hill above Sedlare 24 hours
ago, but today the place is empty. It is like this throughout the summer
— people moving in and out of villages, from one place to another. It is
difficult to even keep track of this constant swirl of people.
September 9: Thousands of people have fled to the Pec region. A
colleague and I try to estimate numbers packed into cars, carts and
tractor trailers bumper-to-bumper but we give up after walking three
kilometers. Shell fire is getting nearer and an old man begs, “Please,
could you do something to stop the shelling.” As we leave soldiers and
tanks are gathering a few kilometers away. When we return the next
day, all the people have gone.
September 11: Houses in the town of Barane are burning. Police
emerge from some homes as we drive by. One carries a television set.
Further on, the villages of Celopek and Kostradic have been damaged by
the fighting and are empty.
September 19: After three previous attempts we reach villages north of
Pristina which have been engulfed by a four-day government offensive.
Ten thousand people have fled. In Dobratin, 30 of 70 houses have been
torched. The villagers are stoic. The next day they are very agitated;
they have just found the charred remains of three people burned in an
September 21: KLA soldiers have been helping old men, women and
children from Kacanol mountain village northwest of Pristina. One
70-year-old man wandered the woods for five days looking for his family
of eight. Another is on the verge of tears; a six month supply of wheat he
bought with money sent by a brother in Germany has been burned by
September 25: A military offensive is at its height. Houses are on fire in
villages in central Kosovo. We pass a convoy of government trucks with
signs pasted on them ‘Social Humanitarian Aid of Kosovo and Metohija.’
The wind whips up the tarpaulin on one truck, revealing blue uniformed
police crammed inside.
September 26: High Commissioner Sadako Ogata visits Resnik 25
kilometers north of Pristina and talks with some of the 25,000 people
who fled a military sweep in the region. As Ogata sloshes by in the mud,
one portly old man in a woollen skullcap mutters: “It is a shame for
Milosevic to put his people in a situation like this.
September 30: Three Red Cross workers lie dead or dying on a sunlit
hill at Gornje Obrinje after their car hit a land-mine. People try to attract
a Yugoslav helicopter by waving Red Cross flags. My colleague, John
Campbell, a veteran British soldier, turns on his vehicle’s headlights to
attract the chopper. It is too late for one wounded doctor who died
Fernando del Mundo, UNHCR
Rising from the ashes?
1999, a year of decision in the Balkans
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