The Nando Times - Bottleneck adds to fears in Kosovo

By DANICA KIRKA

PRISTINA, Yugoslavia (November 14, 1999 1:32 p.m. EST) - Humanitarian agencies struggling to bring emergency aid to Kosovo expressed alarm Sunday about a bottleneck in efforts to deliver supplies to the beleaguered province, site of a war earlier this year, before winter arrives.

New rules imposed by Macedonian authorities at the key border crossing at Blace have stalled virtually all aid coming into the provincial capital, Pristina, even though aid agencies have been stepping up efforts to bring in clothes, food and relief supplies to the war-ravaged region before poor weather blocks their distribution.

The problems began over a week ago when Macedonian authorities leveled an additional tax of $105 per truck leaving at the crossing. Even worse, police at the border have failed to give aid agency convoys priority for passage over commercial vehicles, sending them to the end of a line that stretches for miles.

"It's a severe problem for those agencies still trying to get in humanitarian relief efforts in the final weeks before the snow falls," said Peter Kessler, a spokesman for the U.N. refugee agency.

In Skopje, a Macedonian Interior Ministry official put the blame on U.N. officials and peacekeepers on the Kosovo side of the Blace border crossing.

The official, who requested anonymity, claimed that Greek peacekeepers who control the crossing were unable to distinguish humanitarian aid from commercial supplies. Earlier, Macedonian Interior Minister Pavle Trajanov said that peacekeepers and the United Nations "will have to review their own logistics and reduce bureaucracy."

The Macedonian corridor is the main way for help to reach the southern Serbian province, which suffered under an 18-month long crackdown by forces loyal to Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic before NATO forces entered in June.

Because of the war, roads to Kosovo from Serbia are not an option for most aid traffic, and roads in Albania are generally too poor to support heavy trucks. Pristina's airport is often closed by fog, making air traffic unreliable. Trains are also not a good option for most aid groups because they still must get the tons of materials from the train station to the place in need.

Herve Caiveau, a project manager for the European Union's humanitarian office, described the situation as "absurdly unfortunate." He said his agency has hundreds of trucks on the other side.

Caiveau said the only bit of luck so far has been that snow has been late in arriving.

"The cold and the snow will come," he said. "And the road leading to the border will be chaos."

http://www.nandotimes.com/global/story/0,1024,500057211-500094210-500361242-0,00.html

[URL may be different next day if article is archived]