NATO, aid agencies gear up for Kosovo refugees' return
June 10, 1999
SKOPJE, Macedonia (CNN) -- As Yugoslav forces began to withdraw from Kosovo, hundreds of thousands of refugees were wondering Thursday how soon they might be able to go home.
NATO peacekeeping troops are waiting for the go-ahead to enter the province and open up key roads by marking and removing what may be thousands of unexploded NATO bombs, as well as possible Yugoslav booby-trap devices and land mines.
Meanwhile, international relief agencies are working on plans to house and feed returning refugees as well as ethnic Albanians who were displaced from their homes but remain in the province.
"The World Food Program is currently planning to feed 1.5 million beneficiaries," said Alice Spring, a spokeswoman for the U.N. agency in the Macedonian capital of Skopje.
"We have a fleet of trucks, mobile warehouses and mobile bakeries waiting to go in," Spring said. "Four bakeries are still operating in Pristina (Kosovo's capital) and we are hoping to use them as distribution centers."
Military airdrops of supplies are also planned.
"We expect to need 1,000 tons of food per day," Spring said. "Our number one priority is to get food to those people inside Kosovo who have been there for weeks, perhaps months, without food."
The hope of NATO and the aid agencies is to convince most refugees not to head home for at least a couple of weeks.
But the peacekeepers said they won't prevent any refugees from returning on their own. "I don't think that would be consistent with the mission," said Maj. Gen. Richard Dannatt, commander of the British NATO contingent.
After two months in the Stenkovic refugee camp in Macedonia, Mustaf Damaneku said he's eager to return to Kosovo to look for missing relatives, but he will wait until NATO says it is safe to do so.
Chris Hennemeyer, senior manager of the Stenkovic camp, said he expects a rise in tension among refugees "until there is clarity" about when they can return.
Most Stenkovic camp residents talk about going home to Kosovo no matter the devastation. "That's where our fatherland is," said one man.
But some may never return.
Thousands have already been accepted into other countries. And some of those who remain in the border camps are following through on plans to find new homes around the world, despite the peace agreement.
Other key problems for peacekeepers and aid agencies will be restoring water and electricity supplies, as well as providing shelter for many Kosovars whose homes may have been damaged or destroyed.Medical assistance and counseling will also be provided.
The office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees will be the lead humanitarian organization, coordinating the return of the U.N. family of agencies and about 30 non-governmental aid groups forced to withdraw from Kosovo when the NATO bombing began on March 24.
About 50 U.N. human rights workers will also go into Kosovo to investigate reports of rights violations, as they had been doing before March 24, and to support the establishment of human rights and judicial structures.
UNICEF, the U.N. children's agency, is also preparing to return with assistance for an estimated 500,000 children and as many as 400,000 women.
Correspondents Mike Boettcher, Lou Waters, David Ensor and Reuters contributed to this report.
Yugoslavia agrees to withdraw forces from Kosovo
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