Now aid war hits refugees

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WHAT A bargain the war in Kosovo was. Governments have been keeping the details of the cost to themselves. For strategic reasons, you understand. But a US think-tank, the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, has done the sums and estimates that the 11-week bombing campaign cost somewhere between $2.3bn (pounds 1.4bn) and $4bn. This does not include the $2.8m a day it costs to keep an aircraft-carrier group at sea but it does embrace the 450 Tomahawk missiles fired by Nato ships - at $1m a piece - and the 90 conventional air-launched cruise missiles (CALCMs to the initiated), which cost $2m each because they had to be converted to ordinary warheads from the nuclear ones they were designed to carry. By comparison, the B-52s' high-speed anti-radiation missiles (HARMs, of course) were cheap at $340,000 a go, and smart bombs a snip at $50,000 a throw.

These, of course, were just what the euphemism specialists who coined the phrase "collateral damage" call the "incremental" charges - those which are additional to the cost of having an army hanging around not doing very much at home. But, you see, it was all a lot cheaper than the Gulf war because the mileage between Nato bases and Yugoslavia is significantly shorter than the distances which had to be flown against Saddam. In any case, if you set the total expenditure against the combined revenues of the governments of Nato (which last year was $6,592bn) you will see that the direct military cost will hardly be noticeable to the West: if Britain ended up paying for one-tenth of the Kosovo venture that would be just 1 per cent of our government revenues.

All of which makes it even more mystifying to discover that, now the time has come to stump up the cash for getting the refugees back to their homes, the money seems suddenly to have dried up. With more than 850,000 Kosovars on the move - in the largest spontaneous return of refugees history has ever recorded - the UN High Commissioner for Refugees last week disclosed that his agency had received only $140m of the $400m requested to get people back home before winter sets in. The Geneva-based agency says it has enough money in the bank to keep the operation going for just another two weeks. UNHCR is on the verge of bankruptcy. Worse still, the head of the UN Development Programme has revealed that part of the little which is going to Kosovo is being siphoned off from funds destined for aid projects in Africa.

This newspaper spoke out strongly against the war on Kosovo as the bombs fell. We felt there were alternatives to war which had not been fully explored. But we have never cast doubt on the good faith of leaders such as Tony Blair in conducting it. Not everyone was as high-minded as the British Prime Minister. Behind much of the belligerence lay the attitude revealed in the writing of people like Thomas Friedman, the New York Times columnist who conducts the paper's twice-weekly lesson on foreign affairs. Milosevic, he said, had to be told: "Every week you ravage Kosovo is another decade we will set your country back by pulverising you. You want 1950? We can do 1950. You want 1389? We can do 1389 too." It was a rebarbative stance. It sent the same message to the people of Serbia as the one Milosevic sent to the Albanians - or Hitler to the Jews, since everyone seems to have been so fond of Second World War analogies during this conflict. It was this: you are all the same, you are all vicious, you are all guilty, you must all be punished.

This, of course, was not the vindictive message of Western governments. They should now underscore that fact by galvanising their officials to make the cash flow as readily for relief as it did for munitions. The cost of the UNHCR operation is a measly $10m a week. No million-dollar technology is needed - just tents, blankets, mattresses, plywood, window frames, nails and tools so the refugees can begin repairing at least part of their homes to provide shelter before the harsh Balkan winter begins. If we could afford the war, we can afford the peace.

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