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Yugoslavia - The New Iraq

While the UN considers intervention in East Timor, Yugoslavia remains devastated. The West should should remember the 2000 year-old words of the Roman, Tacticus. He said, "They make a wilderness and call it peace." John Howard reports.

NATO's 79 day war against Yugoslavia is over but the bombing devastation remains. Yugoslavia, never prosperous, has been reduced to one of the poorest nations on earth, a new Iraq.

The air offensive was launched, in Tony Blair's words, " save thousands of innocent men, women and children from humanitarian catastrophe, from death, barbarism and ethnic cleansing."

By the use of wildely disproportionate brute force, NATO has achieved the senseless destruction of the country's entire infrastructure.

Entire towns have been blasted off the face of the earth, together with the basic necessities of life - provision of water, power, housing, jobs and anything else that got in the way.

NATO more than matched Milosovic in causing innocent deaths. During the previous five years, there had been 100,000 refugees from Kosovo. Now there are millions. Are the Balkans more stable now than before the bombing?

Throughout the war NATO repeatedly claimed that it bombed military targets only, that anything else was unfortunate "collateral damage."

The UN refugee organisation, UNHCR, now estimates that 50% of all homes in Kosovo have been destroyed or damaged. At least 300,000 housing units are needed for 1.6 million people. That includes the necessity for rebuilding anew, the infrastructure: power plants, bridges, water systems, manufacturing plants, as well as clearing land mines.

And there is very little time to do it. The temporary, grossly overcrowded refugee camps are totally inadequate for the approaching first snow expected by October.

Doctors Without Borders have warned "Rwanda-like conditions" should the weather close in early.

Coatian sources estimate that Yugoslavia would have to spend seven to ten years of its entire GNP to repair the damage done by NATO bombing in Kosovo. They say 80% of all rail connections have been wrecked; 95% of airports can no longer function; 80% of communications facilities have been destroyed; 80% of electricity production paralysed.

Unemployment, officially 27% last year, is likely to double that, with up to 500,000 workers laid off or out of work, their workplaces vaporised.

Car, truck, vacuum cleaner, whitewear, oil, and many other manufacturing plants have been flattened.

In early May NATO used graphite bombs for the first time, causing electricity blackouts. Around Belgrade, many thousands of hectares of farmlands, together with rivers, lakes and ground water, have been polluted as a result of bombing attacks on oil refineries, fuel depots, and chemical factories. The German Federal Office For the Environment has warned of ecological disaster for surrounding countries because of poisons released from bombed plants.

The River Danube must be made navigable again. An estimated 50 bridges spanning the river were blown up in Serbia and Montenegro. Without this important artery any idea of rapid reconstruction is illusory. Nor is Yugoslavia alone affected. The collapse of the Danube traffic affects Hungary, Bulgaria and Rumania, impacting on the economy of the whole region.

The International Danube Shipping Institute in Budapest estimates it will take many years before the Danube is fully navigable.

Fortunately, the people still have a sense of humour. A correspondent from Kosovo recently wrote to me about how the war really got started: - US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, walked into the decisive meeting of the North Atlantic Council (NATO's supreme political authority) and, after looking round the room and noting there were no other women delegates present, asked" So, gentlemen, what shall we make - Love or War?" The vote was unanimous.


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