WASHINGTON (September 1, 1998) -- Escalating hostilities in Kosovo threaten to become a humanitarian catastrophe for many of the estimated 320,000 civilians displaced by the conflict, according to one U.S. Archbishop who recently returned from the war-torn Yugoslav province.
Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick of Newark (NJ) described the "indiscriminate shelling of villages; deliberate destruction of homes, farms, and villages; reckless -- or indeed -- planned and premeditated killing of combatants and noncombatants alike; tens of thousands of refugees forced to seek shelter in intolerable conditions" as a "pattern of the past being recreated before our eyes."
"To those who have watched with horror the crimes against humanity which defined the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia during the years of the terrible struggle there, the story of Kosovo in 1998 seems chillingly similar," he said upon returning from the Balkans on August 21.
Archbishop McCarrick, who chairs theInternational Policy Committee of the U.S. Catholic Conference spent a week meeting with Church and other religious leaders, government officials, relief organizations and political leaders in Serbia, Kosovo, and Macedonia.
"The question is not whether a solution is possible," said Archbishop McCarrick. "The question is whether the international community has the will to find one now."
During his visit, Archbishop McCarrick conferred with officials from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and leaders of other relief organizations, and met with two groups of Serb refugees from Western Slavonia resettled near Belgrade. He also met with U.S. Ambassador to Macedonia Chris Hill, Charge d'Affairs Richard Mills, the senior U.S. diplomat in Yugoslavia, and Ibrahim Rugova, the elected leader of Kosovo's Albanian community.
Archbishop McCarrick said the elements to a solution include: an end to the killing; a new relationship between Kosovo and Serbia -- even if imposed by outside parties; and authentic self-government with local control and protections for minority rights. Changing national borders by force, however, "could easily destabilize the entire region," Archbishop McCarrick said.
Any solution "will have to be guaranteed by the major powers, including the United States," he said.
Among the relief organizations with whom Archbishop McCarrick met, he singled out Catholic Relief Services for their efforts in Kosovo. He said U.S. Catholics can take pride in the vital work of CRS on behalf of the most vulnerable and needy around the world.
He also noted that it was especially helpful to discuss the current crisis and other matters with local Church leaders, including Archbishop Franc Perko of Belgrade, Bishop Joakim Herbut of Skopje, Macedonia, and Bishop Marko Sopi of Prizren in Kosovo. He welcomed the opportunity to hear the concerns of the Serbian Orthodox Church in a Belgrade meeting with Patriarch Pavle and four of the five other synod members. Other religious leaders whom Archbishop McCarrick consulted included Mufti Jusuf Spahic in Belgrade and Ahmet Sadria of Pristina's Islamic Community.