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War in the Balkans: Thousands respond with cash to disaster appeal

THOUSANDS OF callers jammed telephone donation hotlines within an hour of the televised launch yesterday of the official charity appeal for Kosovar refugees.

The appeal, organised by the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC), which has linked 12 UK charities - including Oxfam and the British Red Cross - already assisting the exiled Kosovars, was given a prime-time television launch in separate five minute briefings headed by Jill Dando on BBC, and the actress Juliet Stevenson on ITV.

The Independent launched the DEC appeal with its readers last week prompting a massive response. More than pounds 150,000 has been pledged already following 1,500 letters and 4,500 calls to the appeal hotline.

Yesterday's official launch is the next stage in the fundraising effort designed to avert the biggest humanitarian disaster in Europe since the Second World War. With almost one million ethnic Albanians forced from their homes, charity organisers were hopeful that the British public, spurred on by coverage of the conditions endured by the refugees, would give generously.

A spokeswoman for the DEC said 25,000 calls were received yesterday, even before the appeal was fully launched. Juliet Sober said 3,400 lines were available, 100 of which were answered by British Telecom volunteers with automated donation lines for the rest. She said: "We are hoping for an enormous response after the broadcasts."

The 12 charities involved are - The British Red Cross, Christian Aid, Cafod, Care International UK, Children's Aid Direct, Concern Worldwide, Help The Aged, Merlin, Oxfam, Save The Children, Tearfund and World Vision - to prevent the public being bombarded with separate appeals. Charity heads said the scale of the tragedy was such that a carefully planned joint effort was needed to make sure the aid got to the people who most needed it as soon as possible. They had decided to collect financial donations rather than goods to simplify and speed up the aid work.

To illustrate the size of the problem, Julian Filochowski of that Catholic charity Cafod said Albania alone had absorbed around 10 per cent of its own population in refugees. He said: "It is like five million people suddenly arriving in Kent." Ama Annan of Christian Aid, who had just returned from Albania, said refugees were weakened by trauma, hunger, dehydration and cold.

Two telephone lines are open for donations. They are 0870 6060900 and 0990 222233. Donations can also be sent by post to: Disasters Emergency Committee Kosovo Appeal, PO Box 999, London, EC4A 9AA. Cash can be also given at banks, building societies and post offices. Cheques should be made payable to Kosovo Crisis Appeal. Updates on the appeal can be obtained via ITV Teletext page 520, or the DEC Internet site (www.dec.org).