Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Kosovo Relief Organizations Back to Work

Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Kosovo Relief Organizations Back to Work

Article excerpt

Seeing a brief window of opportunity before the full-fledged onset of winter, religious and other humanitarian relief organizations in Kosovo are scrambling to make up for the time lost to threatened NATO air strikes.

The Feb. 28 Serb crackdown on ethnic Albanians in the Serb-controlled province of Kosovo forced U.S.-based religious relief organizations operating in the region since the early 1990s to abandon longterm development programs in favor of emergency relief as thousands of ethnic Albanians either fled in terror or were burned out of their villages.

Relief workers at Mercy Corps International, an ecumenical, faith-based relief organization out of Portland, Ore., returned to the Serb province and were delivering supplies within hours of last week's accord that staved off -- at least temporarily -- the NATO airstrikes.

The organization's five expatriates were forced to evacuate, fearing Serb retaliation from threatened NATO air strikes. Together with a staff of 20 nationals, Mercy Corps has delivered approximately $25 million in aid to the region since 1993.

Officials said that even as the peace accords were being signed, a Mercy Corps convoy was rumbling toward the town of Kishna Reka in Kosovo where the convoy's supplies were distributed by the Mother Teresa Society. Most of the humanitarian groups operating in the region utilize the indigenous Mother Teresa Society's distribution network.

The recent attacks, bombings and shellings by both sides in the conflict have destroyed progress in agricultural development made by Mercy Corps projects over the last five years, said O. Terry Heselius, Mercy Corps country director who was interviewed by telephone from Pristina, Kosovo.

Life is increasingly difficult for the approximately 300,000 people displaced by Serb aggression, Heselius said. …

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