Bishop of Galveston-Houston
March 31, 1999
The escalating violence in Kosovo is taking place during the holiest season of the year for both Eastern and Western Christianity. As the NATO bombing campaign enters its second week, we are gravely concerned by mounting evidence that the Yugoslav authorities are undertaking a massive, widespread and systematic campaign of aggression and ethnic cleansing against the ethnic Albanian civilian population by means of extrajudicial killings, destruction of civilian property and forced displacement.
Last week the Holy Father rightly called this conflict "a defeat for humanity." We earnestly pray that all sides in this conflict will respect this holy season by taking the following steps.
First, it is essential that the Yugoslav authorities immediately halt the unjustifiable and intolerable aggression and ethnic cleansing against Kosovar civilians now being carried out by military, police and irregular forces. These deliberate and indiscriminate attacks against the civilian population appear to be carried out as a matter of policy and are in any case morally reprehensible. The Kosovo Liberation Army must cease its attacks as well, with all sides respecting the informal October cease-fire agreement that also limits the numbers and types of forces the Yugoslav authorities can deploy in Kosovo.
Second, suspension of the NATO bombing campaign would be the appropriate response to the cessation of hostilities by the Yugoslav authorities linked to a firm commitment to allow the immediate, unconditional and safe return of all displaced persons and refugees.
Third, these steps must be accompanied by allowing immediate and unhindered access to Kosovo for international agencies, including the UN and OSCE, as well as relief organizations and human rights monitors, including representatives of the International Criminal Court for the former Yugoslavia. To forestall an imminent humanitarian catastrophe, neighboring states must maintain open borders and the international community must support those states, as well as international relief efforts, such as those now being carried out by Catholic Relief Services.
Finally, there must be a 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. This settlement would have to be enforced by an international peacekeeping force, with the wider regional issues ultimately addressed as a matter of urgency in appropriate regional and international settings.
We earnestly pray that a cessation of aggression by the Yugoslav authorities, followed by a suspension of the NATO bombing campaign, would create the conditions necessary for addressing the mounting humanitarian crisis and for reaching a political settlement. We offer our continued prayers for all whose lives are at risk: the civilian populations of the entire region, men and women in military service, and others. It is our prayer that political leaders will spare no effort to seek a just and peaceful solution in keeping with this holy Easter season.