Fallout of war blocks reconciliation

ULCINJ, Yugoslavia, Mar 20, 2000 -- (Reuters) Germans and Jews made impassioned pleas for reconciliation in the Balkans at a weekend conference in Yugoslavia, saying it was the only way to avoid future wars.

But Serb and Kosovo Albanian delegates to the conference, called "Truth, Responsibility and Reconciliation" said the continued fallout from the latest war and widespread fear of a new one made reconciliation unattainable any time soon.

"What we are doing here, and I say that as a German citizen and a German politician, is being done in defence of the future," said Freimut Duve, media programme director of the Organisation for Security and cooperation in Europe.

"We are trying to help overcome the danger of self-victimisation," he said, going on to describe how Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler rose to power on the idea that Germany was a victim of the First World War.

The aim of the conference, as outlined by organiser Veran Matic, had been to pave the way towards setting up a "truth commission" in Serbia to confront past war crimes and eventually cooperate with similar institutions elsewhere.

But several of the Serb participants, who made up a majority of the delegates, said Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's tight grip on the country and widespread fear of a new conflict opening up made public debate almost impossible.

And the handful of delegates from Kosovo said the myriad wounds among the civilian population from the Serbian campaign to crush separatism in Kosovo were too fresh.

"How can you expect someone who has lost 20 members of his family to say, 'Right, I want reconciliation'," said Bashkim Hisari, a lawyer with the Humanitarian Law Fund in Kosovo.


He and others said those guilty of war crimes had to be punished first and Kosovo Albanians released from Serbian jails.

"Until the Serb nation apologises to the Albanian nation in Kosovo there cannot be reconciliation," said Mustafa Radoniqi, another lawyer from the Kosovo branch of the Fund.

Dusan Janjic, from the Belgrade-based Forum for Ethnic Relations, said fear of a new conflict created an atmosphere in which public debate was almost inconceivable.

A year after NATO's bombing over Kosovo, many people fear a new outbreak of fighting, either in the pro-Western republic of Montenegro where the conference was held, in a tense, mainly Albanian area of Serbia near Kosovo, or deep inside Serbia.

Milosevic's domination of the media in Serbia has convinced many Serbs they are fighting for survival against a Western plot to destroy them and that criticism is dangerous, said human rights activist Vojin Dimitrijevic.

Both Albanians and Serbs at the conference detailed the violence suffered by their peoples in Kosovo - the Albanians from Serbian security forces before NATO deployed last year, the Serbs in revenge attacks by the Albanians since.

Vladimir Ilic, a professor at Belgrade University, said it was important for Serbs to hear the shocking accounts of what Serbian forces did to Albanians in Kosovo. "It is good to hear it time and time again if we want to overcome the suffering."

But other delegates warned both Serbs and Albanians of the danger of using one lot of violence to justify the other.

Arie Nadler from the University of Tel Aviv said small practical steps could help restore trust, through cooperation in areas like agriculture, trade and entertainment.

Ana Miljanic, a young Belgrade theatre director whose plays are designed to make Serbs contemplate crimes committed in their nation's name, said the issue could not be put off.

"Work must start now if we want any future."

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