June 21, 1999
Lodewijk Briet, minister counselor for the European Commission's Delegation to the United States, Bill Frelick, senior policy analyst at the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Nancy Lindborg, vice president of Mercy Corps International, discuss the rebuilding of Kosovo.
KWAME HOLMAN: Eleven weeks of conflict left much of Yugoslavia battered and broken. Serb troops destroyed homes and villages throughout Kosovo, leaving hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanians homeless, an estimated 90 percent in some areas are ruined. Even after the peace accord was reached earlier this month, retreating Serb forces set homes afire, some their own houses, others belonging to ethnic Albanians. And NATO also wreaked damage on Kosovo. Its bombs were aimed mostly at Serb troops, tanks and artillery. But there were other targets too, among them, a factory in Glogovac, the airport in the Kosovo capital of Pristina and an oil refinery outside Pristina. Parts of NATO missiles and unspent cartridges remain scattered on roads and elsewhere around the city. Aid workers now are trying to restore basic services, power, water, and police. And they are pleading for help.
RON REDMOND, UNHCR Spokesman: For this reconstruction effort, we are
broadcasting appeals now in some
of the host countries, the asylum countries for refugees who have special
expertise, people like water engineers, sanitation engineers, civil
engineers, lawyers, doctors, administrators, some of these people who
KWAME HOLMAN: NATO also struck Montenegro, the tiny Yugoslav republic next to Kosovo. It has a democratically-elected government which tried during the conflict to walk a fine line between Serbia and the West. The military airport in Montenegrin capital of Podgorica was hit hard, destroying hangars, petroleum facilities and several attack aircraft on the ground. The air strikes caused even more damage to Serbia and its infrastructure, including disabling Serbia's power grid and misguided missiles hit at least three hospitals in Serbia. European leaders meeting in Germany over the weekend say they will take the lead in the reconstruction of Kosovo, and they promised Europe will foot most of the bill for the effort. But most western leaders don't want to help rebuild Serbia until Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic who has been indicted for war crimes, relinquishes power. President Clinton and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said their nations would help with some humanitarian aid, such as restoring power to allow hospitals to reopen. The estimates for rebuilding the Balkans go as high as $30 billion over the next five years. The European Union has agreed to target $500 million per year for the next three years for Kosovo alone. The U.S. will contribute as well. President Clinton has called for an international summit on reconstruction of the Balkans in the city of Sarajevo, in Bosnia, and Herzegovina next month.
|The needs in Kosovo.|
JIM LEHRER: Now, to Lodewijk Briet, the minister counselor for the European Commission's Delegation to the U.S.; Bill Frelick, senior policy analyst at the U.S. Committee for Refugees; and Nancy Lindborg, vice president of Mercy Corps International, an international relief and development group; she's just returned from Kosovo.
JIM LEHRER: Beginning with you, Bill Frelick, let's try to get an understanding of what needs to be reconstructed in Kosovo. Begin.
BILL FRELICK, U.S. Committee for Refugees: There's a tremendous amount of physical destruction in Kosovo, particularly in the western part of the country. There was a helicopter assessment mission that UNHCR just made a day or so ago.
JIM LEHRER: That's the U.N. group.
BILL FRELICK: The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and they noted a tremendous devastation, destruction, well over 50 percent of the houses destroyed or damaged in that region between Jakovica and Pec, which are the Serbian names of the two major western cities there. Destruction in Pristina is not as great. There, certainly houses were looted, but there wasn't the degree of burning and that kind of thing. Rural areas, I think, are going to be more hard hit than some of the urban areas, but it depends on the urban areas and how much fighting there was going on in that area or I shouldn't say fighting so much, but areas were targeted as being chaotic.
JIM LEHRER: By somebody. By somebody, targeted by somebody.
BILL FRELICK: One-directional fighting, shall we say.
JIM LEHRER: Yes. Right. Now, what about basic communications and roads and that sort of thing, Ms. Lindborg?
NANCY LINDBORG: Well, I was just in Pristina and traveled along the road through Prizren and Jakovica to Pec in western Kosovo. The roads are actually in decent shape. A few bridges are out, which is why I wasn't able to take the direct route from Pristina to Pec. Communications, electricity, and water are all functioning in Pristina. When you get into the western areas, there is some electricity, some water, no land lines and no cell phone communications, but I think the infrastructure, particularly in Pristina, is in better shape than we had feared. But what's important is not just the physical infrastructure; it's also the civil societies and municipal governments; those structures need to be rebuilt as well, and I think that that's a large challenge.
JIM LEHRER: What is the first priority along those lines?
NANCY LINDBORG: The first priority right now is to get life-saving assistance in food, water, and shelter, because, as Bill mentioned, there was significant damage to homes, to hospitals, and so medical care as well. And then I think that it's important to give the support that's necessary to the Kosovars to help them rebuild their governance structures. There will be a large temptation by the international community to flood the region with people who will do it for them, and I think that's something we need to -
JIM LEHRER: You're talking about governmental experts?
NANCY LINDBORG: I'm talking about -- there are 2,000 United Nations people slated to go in, 2,000 OSCE people to go in; it's not that large of a region. And there is some ability of the Kosovars to organize themselves and come up with governmental structures and a vibrant civil society that's been in place for years.
JIM LEHRER: In a general way is that the crucial decision that everyone must -- who's involved in this -- must make? What is it that the Kosovars can do for themselves, and what is it that the rest of the world needs to help them do?
BILL FRELICK: Well, the Kosovars can do a great deal for themselves. Last year, they had really organized through the Mother Teresa Society and other organizations, a tremendous network to feed people at a time when Serbian forces had really done everything they could to prevent food from reaching isolated areas and from a quarter of a million internally displaced people last year, before the major influx into Macedonia and Albania. So there is tremendous potential there. There's a great deal of talent, and we want to make great advantage of that. On the other hand, infrastructural damage, the clearing of land mines, these sorts of things, I mean, there's some heavy lifting.
|The agricultural question.|
| JIM LEHRER: They can't do that by themselves, obviously.
But what about the basics, like food? What is it -- give us an overview
about what the agricultural potential is in Kosovo, the ability of the
Kosovars to feed themselves in general.
NANCY LINDBORG: Well, it's largely an agrarian economy, and their two major cereals are winter wheat and corn, with a great deal of vegetable gardening. I don't think it can ever be a fully self-supporting region, but they can grow quite a bit of what they consume. They've lost two agricultural cycles, not just from the air strikes but from the year of violence that preceded it. In many areas they have been able to either plant or harvest. So I think getting a crop in this fall of winter wheat is critical not just to address the overwhelming food shortage in the region but also to re-engage them so that they can go back and start working. Over and over again, that's what I heard from people -- we want to go back to work.
JIM LEHRER: So, that would be - and would you agree with this Mr. Frelick - that would be - it would be more important to help those folks get started growing their own crops than it would be than it would be to bring in other people's food from the outside?
BILL FRELICK: Right. Livestock, too. There's tremendous losses of livestock. And one of the things that we've suggested -- and I think that the international community is picking up on -- is the idea of gradual returns with look-and-see visits, allow farmers to go back, assess the condition of their farms, get the winter wheat planted and then maybe spend the harsh winter back in Macedonia or in Albania, have a fluid border where people can go back and forth - it's not just a one-way ticket that means for all time you've turned in your ration card, you've turned in your refugee card and you're on your way - but to give people a chance to make it a more gradual return.
JIM LEHRER: Are the Kosovars going to buy that? Don't all of them want to back and say, hey, I'm back home now, help me at my home, not keep me in a refugee camp?
BILL FRELICK: I think we want to make that opportunity open to them. Certainly, the psychology right now is very, very much a snowball effect, if you will, of people wanting to return, wanting to get back quickly, wanting to put up a tent on their own, you know in the gardens of their own homes and that kind of thing. But the international community is trying to put some brakes on that in order to try to manage the chaos. In some ways, it's a positive chaos. And you want to take advantage of the enthusiasm, the motivation of people to help themselves. It's really a wonderful problem to have in the sense that in other refugee situations, that are drawn out and protracted, you don't have a political settlement --you have what's called a dependency syndrome where people are in camps, they get used to being fed; they get used to queuing up and have somebody else ado for them. These refugees wanting to get back, wanting to help themselves, that needs to be harnessed, but it's a great enthusiasm to take advantage of.
|Is the European Union aware of the challenges?|
JIM LEHRER: Now let's bring you into this in terms of the European union. Is the European Union aware of all these things? And is the overview approach going to be constructed to try to accommodate this - what did you call it -- what was your modifier to chaos? A good chaos.
BILL FRELICK: Yes.
JIM LEHRER: Yes.
LODEWIJK BRIET: It is a good chaos.
JIM LEHRER: I couldn't remember the word you used.
LODEWIJK BRIET: Well, Jim, it's a good chaos because if you remember Bosnia just a few years ago, the displaced persons and refugees would not go back because they didn't trust the situation. The fact that we faced the chaos, as Bill says, of people returning at much greater speed than we thought, means that they trust the situation on the ground. And today, the announcements which you made I think prove that point. The European Union is aware of the situation and keeps in close touch and is doing everything to meet first the short-term needs, of course, under the overall auspices of the UNHCR, the United Nations, High Commissioner for Human Rights & Refugees, and secondly, the medium-term reconstruction needs.
JIM LEHRER: But what are you going to do about this delicate balancing act that Mr. Frelick was talking about between the desire of the people to go home and the desire of the outside-of the international community to keep things orderly to make it work better?
LODEWIJK BRIET: There is going to be a measure of chaos, a measure of disorganization. We do not intend to keep people back. And, in fact, what's happening is that a lot of people go back to their own houses, which they find destroyed, and they start reconstructing. We will be dealing with a whole host of micro projects, and this is, as the UNHCR spokesman said earlier in the program, this is something where-- to rely on local labor and local procurement also of construction goods is frankly a very good thing. That way you get the economy slowly going again.
JIM LEHRER: Is your reading of the situation, Ms. Lindborg, the same as theirs is, that the skills of the Kosovars is there to do this kind of work, to rebuild their homes, to do the infrastructure kinds of things?
NANCY LINDBORG: Yes. I mean, I think as Bill mentioned earlier, there is some heavy lifting in terms of investment for the larger projects.
JIM LEHRER: Sure.
NANCY LINDBORG: But I think key is to help these folks get back to work. They have been con strained through the last ten years by some of the Serb mandates. They have not had access to many of the jobs that have been available. When I was just there, I heard over and over again, more than anything we want to get back to work; we want to show what we can do; and we want to give something back. So I think right behind the life-saving measures you need to have economic development that gets these folks back to work and get some cash infusions into the economy. And I think with just a little bit of assistance, they will rebuild their own homes, they need access to materials. But they can do a lot.
JIM LEHRER: Is the material there, or do the materials have to be brought in from the outside?
LODEWIJK BRIET: Some of it will need to be procured.
JIM LEHRER: What do they have naturally that the outside community does not -- is there plenty of wood and cement and that sort of thing?
LODEWIJK BRIET: Well, concrete is procured locally. Yes, sure.
NANCY LINDBORG: A lot of their materials previously came from Serbia. And if those relationships of trade are not put back together, they will probably have to get it from Macedonia and Albania, Bulgaria, the region which is probably a good thing, because those state economies have been devastated as well. A lot of the industry was located in Serbia, not in Kosovo, which was largely agrarian. They do have a coal mine, a lot of mineral reserves. They don't have a lot of industry.
JIM LEHRER: It sound -
NANCY LINDBORG: Large scale.
JIM LEHRER: It sounds to me as if this is going to be a very complicated process. I mean, it isn't going to be some blanket thing you can pull off a shelf and say, well, we've done this refugee resettlement thing before, in some part, other part of the world, and we'll give it - make it work in Kosovo. Is the EU and all the international organizations involved, are they capable of fine-tuning a program like this?
LODEWIJK BRIET: I think we have to be confident that the European Union is in close coordination with all the organizations involved, yes. It is not as harsh a situation as the one we faced in Bosnia where the Bosnians and the Croats were fighting each her.
JIM LEHRER: Sure.
LODEWIJK BRIET: Remember Mostar. And where then the two of them had problems in agreeing to anything with Republika Serbska. I think in that sense, it's going to be easier. Now, we should not, of course, under-estimate the deep-seated and extremely fresh memories and hatred. So, it's not going to be easy. You're absolutely right. But, I think, you know, further humanitarian aid to the reconstruction aid to - not to be forgotten -- the macroeconomic aid, huge budgetary needs, and that is some of the heavy lifting. We need to get the economies of the - first of all - the province of Kosovo but also the neighboring countries which you mentioned. Let's not forget Romania and Bulgaria, for example; not to mention -Albania -
JIM LEHRER: If you had to list the most important thing that ought to be done immediately that isn't being done, what would it be?
BILL FRELICK: Well, I think that we still have to get a handle on the people who are internally displaced in the country, people that are coming out of the woods, still straggling out. There's some difficulty in making sure that the message is out to everyone to know that they can come out, and it's safe. This has all happened just in a matter of days really. It's really an amazing transformation. But those are the vulnerable people, people who really haven't had enough food to eat for the last couple of months, who have been just scraping by.
JIM LEHRER: They need help more even than the ones who are obviously that are in the refugee camps elsewhere.
BILL FRELICK: Exactly. But they're all being mixed together. So, it's going to be harder and harder to determine that triage - you know, who's the most vulnerable person and to try to help them.
JIM LEHRER: You sound very confident that this is going to happen, Ms. Lindborg, that Kosovo can be put back together again.
NANCY LINDBORG: Yes. I think that it can. It won't be easy, and it won't be fast. And it probably won't look like it did before. But I think there is a great will among the Kosovars to return and get back to their homes and work. And with the help of the international committee, I think that can happen.
JIM LEHRER: Thank you all three very much.
LODEWIJK BRIET: Thank you very much.
BILL FRELICK: Thank you.