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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

UN Aid Mission Set to Return As Belgrade Vows Cooperation




GENEVA -- United Nations aid experts gathered Friday to prepare for the first UN humanitarian mission to Yugoslavia since NATO began airstrikes on the country six weeks ago.


The preparations started a day after Yugoslavia agreed unconditionally to allow the UN team to assess the country's humanitarian situation and recommend what needs to be done for ethnic Albanian refugees to return to Kosovo.


Belgrade's UN representative Vladi-slav Jovanovic pledged Yugoslav cooperation with the mission but suggested that a small advance team visit the capital this weekend so that security and other arrangements can be worked out for the larger team.


On Friday, UN officials said Nils Kastberg, a Swede who heads emergency operations for the UN Children's Fund, or UNICEF, will head the four-member advance team. It will be composed of representatives from UNICEF, the refugee agency UNHCR, the UN security office and the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, a spokeswoman for the world body told a news briefing in Geneva.


"They will leave this weekend for Belgrade," she added.


UN relief agencies have not been in Yugoslavia since NATO airstrikes began March 24, concentrating their work in surrounding Balkan countries to which Serbian security forces have driven hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanians.


The team was expected to leave for Belgrade on Sunday to discuss visa, security and transport arrangements for a larger team of 15 that will be led by Sergio Vieira De Mello, UN undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs.


UN officials in New York said UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan had written NATO chief Javier Solana informing him of the mission but was not asking for a pause in the NATO bombing.


Also Friday, Annan announced his appointment of former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt as a second envoy to help find a political solution to the Kosovo conflict. Slovak Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan was recently selected as the other envoy.