TALKING IT OVER
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON
June 23, 1999
Last month, I landed at a refugee camp in Macedonia called Stenkovac I. There, on a hot and dusty former airfield, tens of thousands of refugees, forced from their homes in Kosovo by the cruel tyranny of Slobodan Milosevic, were struggling to hold onto the merest shreds of human dignity. Every refugee I met had been separated from a loved one -- mothers from their children, husbands from their wives. Every single person hoped to go home. I promised them that the United States would not turn its back -- that we would make it happen.
This week, I returned to Stenkovac I with my husband. After 79 days of NATO bombing, the skies over Yugoslavia are silent, the Serb military has retreated from Kosovo, and the refugees are preparing to go home.
Their homecoming will not be easy. As the peacekeepers enter Kosovo, they are witnessing firsthand the appalling scope of destruction: mass graves, torture chambers, hundreds of burned villages, women raped, and children forced to watch their parents viciously murdered.
In ensuring that Kosovo is safe for the refugees' return, the peacekeepers have a big job ahead. Mines must be cleared and homes rebuilt. Families need shelter, food and water, as well as information about the fate of their missing family members. Serbs who remain in Kosovo, as well as Kosovar Albanians, must be disarmed.
Our European partners are shouldering much of the burden, but it is also in America's interest to play a part in setting Kosovo, as well as all of Southeastern Europe, on a course toward a prosperous, peaceful and secure future. The war has taken a tremendous toll -- not just on the Kosovars but also on neighboring countries.
For example, last year, Macedonia experienced a modest but encouraging economic growth, making it among the most successful of the region's economies. Now, though, exports to its largest trading partner, Serbia, have come to a standstill. Foreign investment has dried up, critical transportation links have been cut, and unemployment has risen to 35 percent. In the textile industry alone, which comprises nearly 25 percent of the economy, thousands of jobs will be lost by the end of the summer if business is not restored.
In May, I met a woman named Danica Georgieva, whose small company of six employees did subcontracting work for the American clothing manufacturer Liz Claiborne. When Danica told me that because of the war Claiborne had significantly reduced its orders, I promised to do what I could to help.
On my return to Macedonia this week, Paul Charron, Liz Claiborne's CEO, traveled with me to unveil a project that will not only help the refugees but ensure that Macedonian workers will be able to keep their jobs as well. Starting at the end of this month, his company will donate the fabric, designs and expertise to create 250,000 shirts and pants for the refugees, providing 3,000 jobs for Macedonian textile workers in the process. USAID will fund the production and distribution of the clothing, and the relief agency Mercy International will make sure the items are distributed to the refugees.
The victory in Kosovo is the triumph of a united international community over the forces of inhumanity and hatred. But it is also the triumph of countless unheralded individuals -- from brave American and NATO soldiers to thousands of generous families, relief workers and businesses -- who opened their hearts, their homes and their pocketbooks to help make sure that every Kosovar refugee would one day be able to go home with dignity. When the President ordered our armed forces into combat, he declared three goals: first, to enable the Kosovar people to return to their homes in safety; second, to require Serbian forces to leave Kosovo; and third, to deploy an international security force, with NATO at its core, to protect all the people of that troubled land -- Serbs and Albanians alike. I am proud that America stood steadfast by these goals and that they are being met.
Undoubtedly, you've heard it said many times: The 20th century has turned out to be the bloodiest in history. Millions of innocent people have died because democratic nations responded too late to evil and aggression. Now, because of the resolve of America and our NATO allies, this violent century will end not with helpless outrage but with an affirmation of decency and human rights. I hope this will be the foundation for the new century.
COPYRIGHT 1997 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
April 29, 1997