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Switzerland lends helping hand to Yugoslavia

On the first anniversary of NATO's air strikes on Yugoslavia, the country is still counting the cost of the war. Switzerland and a Geneva-based agency are among the few helping Yugoslavia come to terms with the environmental damage.

This content was published on March 22, 2000 - 07:50

On the first anniversary of NATO's air strikes on Yugoslavia, the country is still counting the cost of the war. Switzerland and a Geneva-based agency are among the few helping Yugoslavia come to terms with the environmental damage.

While NATO's goal of expelling Yugoslav forces from the breakaway province was in effect realised, the air strikes left a trail of environmental damage affecting the entire region. The international community is now helping to pick up the pieces.

Burning oil refineries and chemical plants, in towns like Novi Sad and Pancevo, polluted the atmosphere, the land and rivers. The Geneva-based United Nations Environment Programme is doing what it can to address the problem, as the scale of the damage becomes clearer.

While several European countries have joined in the UNEP cleanup, NATO's most powerful member, the United States, is conspicuously absent. Switzerland, a member of neither the UN nor NATO, is nevertheless investing in the environmental programme: it has so far poured around Sfr4.5 million into the Focus initiative.

Focus was set up at the height of the NATO campaign with the support of Switzerland, Russia, Austria and Greece. Its funds have been used for a variety of projects, from basic food and housing aid, to moving forward in the cleanup programme.

Berne kept up diplomatic relations with Belgrade during the air strikes, and these links have enabled Switzerland to be at the forefront of the post-war environmental programme.

Pakka Haavisto, the UNEP task force leader for the Balkans, said that the policy of other western countries towards Milosevic was holding up the cleanup, which in the UN view was a basic humanitarian issue.

by Jamsheda Ahmad

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