Letter: Kosovo: heading for a new catastrophe

Sir: Many political figures, including Tony Blair, have gone to great lengths to stress to ordinary Yugoslav people that this war is not aimed at them but at Milosevic and his regime.

In 1995 after the UN withdrew from its protectorate role in southern Croatia, the world stood by as Croatia ethnically cleansed the Serbs from the Krajina region. Since 1991 Yugoslavia has been suffering under sanctions. The economic environment, partly a legacy of the old Communist system , made worse by the assimilation of refugees, destroyed by sanctions and heavily assisted by poor government, has created an environment where the black market, organised crime and paramilitary organisations thrive.

This atmosphere is not likely to spawn healthy democratic debate and a strong liberal opposition. This dreadful downward spiral is being made even worse by the bombardment. Despite this there remain a huge number of Yugoslavs who do not support the current regime. This was evident by the mass demonstrations in all the major Yugoslav cities eighteen months ago

Even the most broad-minded pro-Western Yugoslavs must be having their patience tested. They are bewildered by suggestions that by bombing them a humanitarian catastrophe will be avoided. They believe they are living a humanitarian catastrophe already, which is about to get seriously worse, and that two wrongs don't make a right. For them this war is no longer about defeating Milosevic; it is now about defending their homeland from a foreign invasion.

FRANCIS MAGUIRE

London SW19

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