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Lift the sanctions against Yugoslavia

Target, No. 6; March 2000

Journal of the UK's Committee for Peace in the Balkans

Lift the sanctions - [Report from the Committee for Peace in the Balkans delegation to Yugoslavia March 17th]

By Alice Mahon MP

One year after NATO's 79-day bombardment of Yugoslavia claims that the war was waged to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe are more clearly than ever a sham. NATO's bombing campaign precipitated the humanitarian disaster that continues across the whole of Yugoslavia today.

NATO claims it was defending a multiethnic society. However, since Kfor troops arrived in Kosovo on 12 June, on United Nations figures 250,000 ethnic minorities have been driven out of the province; the Yugoslav government puts the number at 350,000.

In Mitrovice, the last remaining multiethnic town in Kosovo, a small minority of the Serb community is right now struggling to defend its presence, while the 'new KLA' has extended its violence across the provincial border into the Presevo valley, where Serb minorities are being driven out, some of whom had already fled Kosovo.

NATO bombing killed, maimed and terrorised the civilian population of Yugoslavia and destroyed much of the country's civilian infrastructure. Today, sanctions are taking a further terrible toll on innocent citizens. The UN points out that poverty levels in Serbia have doubled since July 1998 - from 33 per cent of the population below the poverty line to a staggering 63 per cent by September 1999.

While Yugoslavia has the highest number of refugees in Europe, a new report by CAFOD, the Catholic aid agency points out that it has 'probably the lowest level of humanitarian aid to meet their needs'.

On my visit to Yugoslavia on 17 March, I witnessed first hand some of the effect of sanctions. I met refugees from Kosovo, Bosnia and Croatia and patients at the Bazanijska Kosa hospital, Belgrade, where I also learned from a group of cancer experts how sanctions have seriously undermined prevention and the quality of care available to sufferers.

Lack of parts means radiotherapy equipment doesn't function. Drugs used in chemotherapy are unavailable. X-ray film is in short supply, as is very basic equipment such as scalpel blades.

As a result, sanctions have taken their toll on cancer screening programmes. The number of early detected cases has dropped from 35 per cent in 1990 prior to their imposition to 13 per cent today - with a predictable increase in cancer deaths.

Representatives of the Red Cross and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees confirmed to me that refugees were among those suffering most. The UNHCR's Eduardo Arboleda stated that a serious shortage of funds hampered his work and one solution would be 'to take sanctions away'. Sanctions are inflicting a double punishment on those who have already suffered displacement and severe deprivation - like for example, the Bosnian mother of two disabled children, I met, living in one room in temporary accommodation, whose husband had died of a heart attack because there was no medical treatment.

CAFOD warns that: 'a serious humanitarian crisis is developing in Serbia with ordinary people paying the price for the outside world's efforts to punish the Milosevic regime'. It points out that all opposition parties are united in calling for sanctions to be lifted.

Chapter VII of the UN Charter states sanctions are valid only to avert a threat to international peace and security. In the case of Yugoslavia, however, the west toughened its stance when the conflict ended last June, excluding Yugoslavia from the Balkans Stability Pact and saying that sanctions should stay in place as long as President Milosevic remained in power.

Sanctions are punishing innocent civilians. It's time they were lifted and financial assistance provided by NATO states to assist with the reconstruction of the civilian infrastructure destroyed and damaged by bombing.

Network for Peace in the Balkans -

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