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Prayers, peace & protest

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As the war continues in Kosovo, some metro Detroit organizations are sending prayers and aid to those suffering, while others are calling for an end to the NATO bombings.

According to reports, about one million ethnic Albanians have been forced to leave Kosovo since Serbian aggression began. Vicki Robb, medical coordinator for Southfield-based organization Life for Relief and Development (LRD), has just witnessed the suffering firsthand.

She recently returned from a two-and-a-half week stint in Pequin, Albania, where her organization helped establish a refugee camp. She says that about 3,000 people, mostly women and children, are staying at the camp. There are few men between the ages of 20 and 40, says Robb, because many of them have been abducted or killed.

"There is a lot of depression and high blood pressure," says Robb about the refugees. "People endured a lot to get to Albania. Some children walked without shoes." She says that many women picked up their children and fled Kosovo with only the clothes on their backs.

The organization is hoping to provide shoes and clothing to the refugees.

Robb adds that LRD’s work will continue after the conflict stops. Many homes in Kosovo have been burned and will have to be rebuilt, she says. "This is going to be a long-term process for the humanitarian community." LRD can be reached at 1-800-82-RELIEF.

The University of Michigan organization Students 4 Peace gathered Saturday night at Ann Arbor’s federal building for a silent candlelight vigil for Kosovo war victims. It was the second of two vigils that night for the approximately 30 protesters.

"I think it’s ironic that our president extols peace with bombs," says U-M graduate student Valerie Gibson. "I want to do something to speak for the victims who have no voice because they have been killed by bombs that our taxpayers paid for."

Members of the group say they have collected about 400 signatures for a petition urging Congress to stop the NATO bombings. They say that the media only focuses on the atrocities committed by Serbs against Albanians and ignores larger issues, including the inadequate attempts by the United States and NATO to seek a peaceful solution before unleashing their bombs.

Ivana Milosavljevic, another member of the group, says she left relatives behind in Belgrade when she came to the United States in 1996. "My aunt lives 300 meters from where the bomb fell," she says, speaking of the attack on a Belgrade television station. "I told them I need an e-mail every day so that I will know nobody was in the wrong spot in the past night while I’ve been sleeping." Students 4 Peace are online at www.umich.edu/~sfp/.

Nikola Ristivojevich, the communications director for the American-Serbian Relief Committee (ASRC), says that the Centerline-based organization is collecting money to buy supplies for war victims. The ASRC also wants to tell the story of the Serbians, who Ristivojevich says are being "demonized." "We are suffering from the propaganda war," he says. Contact ASRC at 810-755-5550 or 877-737-2452.

St. Lazarus Serbian Orthodox Cathedral on Detroit’s northeast side is collecting money for aid from its 1,400 families. Rev. Zivan Urosev, who heads the church, says that donations are sent to the International Orthodox Christian Charities, which purchases medical supplies and other goods for those in Kosovo, Belgrade and other Balkan states.

"We are totally against the bombing," says Urosev. "We want a political solution. Everyone is suffering."

Others in the Detroit area also want the bombing to end. Demonstrators gathered at the Detroit-Windsor tunnel last week carrying signs critical of NATO. According to David Sole, who helped organize the rally and march, about 75 protesters passed out leaflets and chanted for peace. Sole says that the group will meet June 5 and some participants will head to Washington, D.C., for an anti-war march on the Pentagon. For march information, call 313-831-0750.

Meanwhile, the Detroit Council for World Affairs will sponsor a town hall meeting, "The Kosovo Crisis: Present and Future," at the Southfield Centre for the Arts. U.S. News and World Report correspondent Mike Tharp and a panel of Wayne State University professors will discuss the war and U.S. involvement. The free event is June 3, at 7 p.m. For information, call 313-577-3453.

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