Keeping a watch over the Kosovars

Refugees: They want to go home, but these casualties of war must be sustained, or Serbia wins.

May 24, 1999

EXPELLED by Serbia, Kosovar refugees tell tales of murder, rape and robbery but are united in the determination to return, to live in peace in Kosovo.

How can these ethnic Albanian Kosovars believe their homeland can ever be safe for them? "They have faith in NATO," says a relief worker. More faith than many citizens of NATO countries have.

Until their safe return is possible, these Kosovars are refugees, robbed of all material wealth and even proof of identity. The chilling warning of Kenneth F. Hackett, executive director of Catholic Relief Services, after a whirlwind visit to Albania, is to prepare for winter.

The Baltimore-based agency, an arm of the U.S. Roman Catholic Church, is the largest private U.S. aid-giver in the region and the major aid-provider in Macedonia. It made a wise forecast of what was coming, in the early 1990s, and moved into the region to be ready.

Mr. Hackett's point is that Kosovar Albanians are not forced into camps in Albania but move in with families, greeted with open arms by ethnic kinsmen, most of whom have always been poorer than their new guests. Tensions quickly replace good will. Albania is hardly a country in the modern sense. Its economy needs support, from schools to electricity.

In Macedonia, the fragile ethnic balance is jeopardized. Refugees are kept in camps. Amnesty International accuses Macedonia of breaking international laws respecting refugees, and of intimidating them. The breakup of Macedonia under these pressures could lead to a wider Balkan war.

U.S. policy must encourage moving Kosovars from camps in Macedonia temporarily to third countries, so that Macedonia will not slam its doors to more.

At the same time, U.S. policy must subsidize Albania in its hospitality. The U.S. Agency for International Development (AID) announced last week it will provide more food and supplies to Albanian families taking refugees. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees already provides small monthly stipends to many.

If the Kosovars do not ultimately return to their homeland to live in security, Serbia's planned crimes of genocide and ethnic cleansing will have succeeded.

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