JANUARY 29, 1996
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: The civil war in Bosnia has left half that country's 4 million people homeless or displaced. Four years of fighting destroyed much of the country's infrastructure. An international campaign to rebuild the country has been launched as a part of the Dayton peace accords. At the White House today, First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and administration officials met with representatives of international relief organizations. Mrs. Clinton warned of the job ahead.
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: Today the children of Bosnia are truly the world's orphans. Thankfully, the process of reconciliation and rebuilding and the process of healing has begun. It will not, as all of you know, be an easy task, but it is one of the most important tasks that we can face together on behalf of the people of Bosnia, particularly the children, but also on behalf of ourselves.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Now, we hear from representatives of three organizations working in Bosnia who were at the White House today. Robert DeVecchi is president of the International Rescue Committee. Kenneth Hackett is executive director of Catholic Relief Services, And Umar Al-Qadi is president of Mercy International, a relief organization founded by Muslim-Americans. And starting with you, Mr. Al-Qadi, what kind of work is your organization doing in Bosnia?
UMAR AL-QADI, Mercy International: Well, up until now, we've been working, we've been focusing on food production, helping the Bosnia--local food production I should say--helping the Bosnians producing their own food, and that's been distribution of seeds for agriculture, also fertilizer, and small animal husbandry projects like our poultry project that produces 35,000 fresh eggs in Tuzla, also a rabbit project in Zenica, and--
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Growing rabbits for eating them?
MR. AL-QADI: Exactly. Rabbits for meat, and also livestock improvement in the Tuzla region. The other area we've worked in is health care infrastructure. We renovated the intravenous solution factory in Sarajevo, and we're also providing medicine--raw material, I should say, for the production of medicines like burn creams, baby creams, antacid pills, et cetera, at the same state hospital in Sarajevo.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: And you've been able to do that throughout all of this terrible war, or mostly your work has just started after the peace accords?
MR. AL-QADI: No. Actually, we've been in former Yugoslavia since March of '94, so we were there during, you know, the height of the war, and it--of course, it was a struggle. The main problems that we faced--
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Well, let's get to the problems in a minute.
MR. AL-QADI: Sure.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Let me just find out from Mr. DeVecchi briefly what your organization's doing.
ROBERT DeVECCHI, International Rescue Committee: Well, the International Rescue Committee began working actually in 1992, and it's really become the most comprehensive and largest program in our 63-year history. We have programs working out of Belgrade, out of Sarajevo, out of Mostar, out of Zenica, out of Zagreb, out of Split. A lot of it is the distribution of supplies and raw materials. A lot of it is local production, stimulating local production, some large infrastructure projects like the building of a new water system in Sarajevo and the extension of natural gas, and a very comprehensive mental health series of programs throughout the area.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: And you, what about you, Mr. Hackett?
KENNETH HACKETT, Catholic Relief Services: Catholic Relief Services did many of the same things, and of course, during the war, it was involved in the immediate relief effort. But I think maybe a slight difference is we took our approach in conjunction with local religious and ethnic organizations, working with Muslim, Orthodox, Jewish, and Catholic organizations together to make sure that the assistance and the aid we provided was determined in its orientation by them. And this provided a forum--
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: But a lot of them were fighting each other.
MR. HACKETT: You bet.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: How did that work?
MR. HACKETT: But that's the whole thing. Assistance can be divisive as well as cohesive, and by putting our assistance through committees made up of each of the different denominations, we found they have to sit around the table and argue with each other about how to slice up the pie. And this provided a forum for dialogue, and that's what we hope we can continue as, as the recovery and rebuilding effort goes on.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: You sort of described my next question, because it was going to be: What is--I mean, all of you have done relief work all over the world. What is--is there anything that's unique about Bosnia? Now, you already answered that question. Mr. Al-Qadi, what about you? Do you find unique problems in Bosnia that aren't existing in other problem areas?
MR. AL-QADI: If you realize how small the country is, I mean, the pre-war population was about four and a half million and the kind of atrocities that have occurred there, I think that makes it unique. I mean, such a small population and such devastation that's occurred and that's been a particular challenge, and trying to overcome the hatreds that have now developed between the, the religious groups there which didn't exist prior to the war, but now we have to enter a phase of healing, I mean, it needs not only individual healing but also community healing for the real peace to--I mean--
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: You heard the First Lady say this process of healing has begun. What is your organization--you're dealing with mental health--how are you going about doing that? I mean, is it really enormous, the problem of mental and psychological problems?
MR. AL-QADI: Well, our particular angle on it, and we hope to be working with Catholic Relief Services and IOCC, International Orthodox Christian Charities, in this, is to work on the community healing part because that's--we don't have any particular expertise in, in counseling of post-traumatic stress syndrome, but we do have--and I described that in our local food production--we do have expertise in trying to rebuild dignity in communities, and that's the part that we would be focusing on, a thing--projects like trying to beautify the parks in Sarajevo, in Tuzla, and Mostar, because, of course, if--the population really can't feel that the war has ended and that there is healing occurring, if every time they go outside, they see the scars of the war constantly. So that's one aspect. Another is to try to get the people who are being counseled in, in the treatment to provide them with opportunities for employment, and so those are some of the areas that we'll be looking into.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Mr. DeVecchi, what are some of the unique problems your organization is--
MR. DeVECCHI: I think one of the unique problems that this terrible conflict has created is that the creation of refugees and displaced persons is a goal of, of the war. Often refugees are the by-product of fighting. But here the goal of the aggressive forces has been to create refugees and displaced persons, and we have really 2 million displaced persons, either within Bosnia or in Croatia, in Serbia, in West Europe, in this country, and there's a tremendous problem ahead of these people are going to go home, do they have a home to go to, what's left of their communities, how do you reintegrate people into a community where your neighbor may have turned on you and, and killed part of your family?
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Well, you're talking about working with Muslims, Bosnian Muslims, Croatians, and Serbs?
MR. DeVECCHI: That's correct.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: All of you?
MR. DeVECCHI: So it's just a monumental problem. I--one plea would be that we not be impatient about it. This is going to be a very slow process, and the Dayton accords are very fragile and the slightest trip wire could set off fighting again, which would be a terrible setback.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Well, how are the people responding to your interventions? I mean, you said you've consulted the people themselves in helping. Have you all consulted the people in setting your priorities, that's why you decided to focus on--
MR. DeVECCHI: I have a theory on this. I'll be very brief about it. I think there's been a silent majority all along throughout Yugoslavia that has detested this war, has detested the nationalistic positions they've been forced to take, and if we can give breathing time for these people to reestablish themselves to get an economy started again and so on, I think the healing process can be much more solid and perhaps more rapid than, than we allow ourselves to think right now.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Are you getting reaction from people? I mean--
MR. HACKETT: Oh, very positively. I mean, right after the Dayton accord, we saw and we saw on the media here how tense things were and how, how little hope people had. They were skeptical. We've seen a change even since the signing of the Dayton Accord in certain communities; people are becoming a little more reassured.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Across-the-board, Serbs, Muslims, Croats?
MR. HACKETT: Yes. I mean, there's still tension, and we vary quite a bit about what's happening in Serbia. We're focusing very much on Bosnia at this point and the accord is focused on Bosnia. We don't want to leave Serbia behind, so that the tensions build there because they're not part of the whole process.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Do you have other problems, I mean, reaching people, aside from some of the things you've mentioned? I mean, we saw the piece about the accident today, the terrible accident with the mines. Is this--does that present--are you having trouble getting to the people?
MR. AL-QADI: Transportation has always been a problem in Bosnia. I mean, the road system is very bad, even without the mines, and that's just an added hazard, and we--our organization's had a number of accidents, but fortunately, no one's been seriously injured in them.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: I read somewhere that 40 percent of the bridges are out and 35 percent of the roads.
MR. HACKETT: And there's still a situation I think for all of us that it's not secure.
MR. AL-QADI: Right.
MR. HACKETT: I mean, there are still people who are there who are set upon disrupting things, and one has to be--
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: You mean, all sides, or--
MR. DeVECCHI: I think all sides. There are the so-called Mujahedeen, who under the Dayton Accords are supposed to, to leave, who are still there in some strength. There are those who are, are out to disrupt the accords and try to, to see that they don't work. So it's not a safe environment.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: So far, there's an estimate that it's going to take about $5 billion over four years to rebuild Bosnia. How does that sound to you on the ground, having to deal with resource issues every day? Mr. Al-Qadi, they're all looking at you for some reason.
MR. AL-QADI: It's a difficult question. Umm, I mean, I suppose--I really don't have a--I'm not sure on the estimate, on the $5 billion, but definitely it's going to require a lot of money to rebuild the country because you're talking about the entire infrastructure of the country, whether it's the education, health care, the homes have been destroyed, and so you have to--you're basically rebuilding the country from scratch and in addition to that, you have to rebuild, you have to rebuild hearts, so you have to build bridges again between the hearts. So I--I don't know exactly what the financial estimate for that would be, but I know it's great.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: You were at the White House today, meeting with the First Lady and other officials of this administration, you've talked with members of Congress, what are you hearing about U.S. support, and how do you feel about what you're hearing, Mr. Hackett?
MR. HACKETT: I feel very positive about it. I mean, there have been cutbacks and people are skeptical in our Congress about what's going to happen, but we have to look at this too in the context of Europe. We are not alone as a nation supporting the reconstruction and rehabilitation of Bosnia. We are with our European and NATO partners, and they have been very generous. Maybe they could be more generous, but I think we have to look at this whole reconstruction effort as part of a grouping. This is an important place in the world.
MR. DeVECCHI: I think the primary responsibility, financial responsibility, seems to be resting with the European Community. Carl Bildt, the infrastructure that is being built there, the civilian structure all of us will be looking to for assistance. I think it's important to know that the international relief community was there before IFOR, before Dayton. They will be there while the NATO troops are there, and you can bet your bottom dollar they'll be there after the troops leave.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Well, with that perspective on Bosnia, how optimistic are you that Bosnia can be rebuilt psychically, socially, politically, all the ways, physically?
MR. AL-QADI: Well, I'm always an optimist at heart, so I think --there's no doubt it's a long road. I mean, we shouldn't feel that it's going to be--there's something that's going to happen in the short-term, but the fact is the people lived together in harmony for decades and centuries, and there's no reason why that shouldn't--we can't restore that again, but it's going to take a long, a long healing.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Do you feel the same?
MR. HACKETT: I feel absolutely the same.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: And you, Mr. DeVecchi?
MR. DeVECCHI: I do too. I agree. I agree.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: So you're optimistic that one day Bosnia will be whole again?
MR. DeVECCHI: It could all slip away very quickly, but I think we have, we have it within our power to make it work.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Well, thank you all for joining us.
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