WASHINGTON (March 31, 1999) -- Citing mounting evidence of a "massive, widespread, and systematic campaign of aggression and ethnic cleansing" in Kosovo at the hands of Yugoslav authorities, the President of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops/U.S. Catholic Conference today outlined four steps for ending the unfolding human tragedy in the Balkans.
"We earnestly pray that all sides in this conflict will respect this holy season," said Bishop Joseph A. Fiorenza of Galveston-Houston.
The four steps outlined by Bishop Fiorenza call for:
- first, the Yugoslav authorities must halt immediately the "unjustifiable and intolerable aggression and ethnic cleansing against Kosovar civilians." He called such attacks "morally reprehensible." He said the Kosovo Liberation Army must also cease its attacks as well.
- a subsequent suspension of the NATO bombing campaign in response to Yugoslavia's cessation of aggression in Kosovo and a clear Yugoslav "commitment to allow the immediate, unconditional and safe return of all displaced persons and refugees." According the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, more than 25 percent of the Kosovar civilian population is on the move, the largest forced displacement of civilians since the Second World War.
- at the same time, the Yugoslav authorities must allow "immediate and unhindered access to Kosovo for international agencies, including the UN and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, as well as relief organizations and human rights monitors." He called for international support for Kosovo's already overburdened neighbors, as well as for international relief agencies, including Catholic Relief Services.
- "renewed and intensified dialogue aimed at reaching a political settlement that respects the wishes of the inhabitants of Kosovo, while also respecting history, international law, and minority rights." He said any settlement would have to be enforced by an international peacekeeping force.
Full text of Bishop Fiorenza's statement.
NOTE: It is also available on the Web, along with several other statements from the U.S. Bishops, a brief overview of Catholic 'just war tradition,' and other church comments on the situation in Kosovo. Go to: www.nccbuscc.org/sdwp/international/kosovo.htm.