TALKING IT OVER
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON
April 7, 1999
Like many people around the world, I have been haunted in recent days by the images of ethnic Albanians driven from their homes by Slobodan Milosevic. Taking place half a world away, their stories can sometimes feel remote. Tragically, though, they are all too real.
Last week, I wrote about a doctor who has treated refugees in Pristina, the capital of Kosovo, for the last year. Imagine the combination of relief and horror among members of my staff when they saw that doctor, Vjosa Dobruna, being interviewed on television. This dignified and passionate woman, who shared tea with me at the White House last spring, is now herself a refugee.
After a friend of hers, a famous human rights activist, was taken from his house, Dr. Dobruna went into hiding for seven days. "I slept in different houses," she explained. When she tried to go back to her apartment, she encountered police, who beat her driver and forced her to leave Pristina.
Dr. Dobruna laments the deplorable conditions the refugees face. "It's a catastrophe," she says as she tells the story of a 17-day-old baby who died in her arms.
We've heard similar stories from other victims of Milosevic's ethnic cleansing. In the 14 months since he undertook his campaign, more than 800,000 -- one out of three ethnic Albanians in Kosovo -- have been displaced from their homes. The conditions facing these people are horrific.
Many have walked miles from their towns and villages, forced at gunpoint to leave without belongings or identity papers. They have endured subfreezing temperatures, rain and snow. Thousands are trapped in a "no man's land" around the Macedonian border, without food, water or sanitary facilities.
One doctor, who had worked for an international aid agency, reported that he and his children had been without food for four days and he didn't know how long they could hold out.
Another refugee said, "My child has been sleeping in the rain for four nights. Last night, I had to force him to wake up because his body was too cold, and he had to move to get warm. The blankets got wet, and there was nowhere to dry them, and our clothes were soaked as well."
Those who have escaped may be the lucky ones. Reports out of Pristina describe Serb soldiers and police herding Albanians into the center of the city and lobbing shells at them. And men have been separated from their families and are being held in factories, stadiums and other locations within the country.
One refugee said, "They had snipers who shot at us. They killed one of our neighbors, an old man, 70 years old, and a girl, 16, and a little boy who was only 5."
A housewife recalled with horror: "They were killing the children. They were killing the men. They were burning our houses and stealing everything in them -- TVs, furniture, everything. They took money and jewelry from the women. They came with guns into houses where we were hiding and ordered us to get out, and they were holding knives to our children's throats."
As is always the case in these situations, the American people have responded to the plight of the Kosovar refugees. As they've seen the all-too-vivid pictures and heard the devastating stories, they have reacted with customary generosity. Here at the White House, we've had countless calls offering contributions of money, supplies and services. Many have even said they would take refugees into their homes and adopt children orphaned by the fighting.
Before this latest Serbian offensive began, the United States had committed $100 million in humanitarian assistance and sent in enough food to supply half a million people for three months. Now, the President has committed another $50 million to the operation and announced the creation of a special coordinating committee for the relief effort as well as plans to accept up to 20,000 refugees on a temporary basis.
When individuals in this country or around the world ask what they can do to help, there is one single answer: The most important thing is to reach deep into their pockets and contribute whatever they can to the relief organizations that are working to provide food, shelter, clothing and medical care to the refugees.
I hope that people all over the world will look for ways to help victims of this vicious aggression. If you would like to make a contribution, there is a toll-free number you can call for information: 1-800-USAID RELIEF, or 1-800-872-4373. Or if you have access to the Internet, you can go to USAID's web site at www.info.usaid.gov.
It's time for us all to find ways to stand up against this terrible reminder of the violence and hatred that have marked too much of this century.
To find out more about Hillary Rodham Clinton and read her past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at www.creators.com.
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April 29, 1997