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1999 NCC News Archives

CWS Staffer Returns From Global Ecumenical Visit To Kosovo

July 13, 1999, NEW YORK – An ecumenical delegation to Kosovo June 24-July 5 returned determined to continue humanitarian assistance to all in need and to help lay the foundation for peaceful co-existence of ethnic Albanians, Serbs and Gypsies in Kosovo.

"United Nations and other humanitarian organizations meet daily to coordinate their response in a situation that is changing rapidly" as refugees return home en masse, reported Linda Hartke of Church World Service, the only North American in the eight-member delegation.

Church World Service, the humanitarian response ministry of the (U.S.) National Council of Churches, expects its aid in the region to reach $3.4 million by the end of the summer.

"What most struck our delegation is there's a new round of ethnic cleansing going on in Kosovo as returning ethnic Albanians find their homes destroyed and family and friends dead or missing," she said. "One thing is clear -- need is need wherever it exists, and victims of ethnic cleansing are victims wherever they are."

The delegation traveled to Pristina, Gracanica, Suva Reka, Prizren, Djakovica, Pec, and Mitrovica -- seeing first hand the destruction wrought by Serbian paramilitary and military forces. Included in its recommendations, the delegation has called for greater international support for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and a clear mandate for KFOR and UN personnel to apprehend and bring to justice persons who committed war crimes.

The visit was organized jointly by the World Council of Churches and Conference of European Churches, in consultation with the Serbian Patriarchate in Belgrade, the WCC's member church in the region.

The delegation explored at every turn "the possibilities for mediation and civil conflict transformation," and reported that "the response was, however, that it would be much too early to think about initiatives to this effect."

Commented Ms. Hartke, "We saw clearly that the trauma is still too fresh for people to think or talk about reconciliation." Nevertheless, the delegation encouraged "those faith-based organizations which have experience in this field to jointly explore possibilities in the mid-term future."

In the meantime, the delegation recommended, the number of KFOR troops originally planned (50,000+) should be fully deployed; the civilian police force must immediately be oriented, trained and put to work across Kosovo; small arms must be demobilized, and KFOR and United Nations civil administration mandates which guarantee the security of ethnic minorities and all citizens must be made explicit.

"Advocacy for the rights of Serbs and other ethnic minorities as well as maintaining a multi-ethnic and diverse Kosovo is critical," the delegation resolved. A civil administration must be established and a civil society rebuilt as soon as possible.

Action by Churches Together (ACT), an international ecumenical humanitarian assistance consortium of which CWS is a member, had an assessment team in the region at the same time as the WCC/CEC delegation, Ms. Hartke reported.

"We were charged with strengthening first-hand contacts with the churches in the region and gathering information on the present situation in Kosovo, with a special focus on the security and rights of all peoples in the region, the nature of the planned civil administration and future long-term ecumenical action," she said. "The ACT team was looking at specific needs on a village by village basis -- numbers of homes destroyed, food security, presence of landmines, and so forth and will issue its revised Kosovo appeal shortly."

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