Sanctions in Serbia hurt the poorest, says aid network

 Draconian sanctions against Serbia are causing untold suffering, Boris Radovic, director of the International Aid Network said in London on 24 March. Visiting from Belgrade on the first anniversary of the NATO bombing (which led to the hasty withdrawal of all foreign aid organisations), Mr Radovic said the current situation is horrendous. Describing once-elegant streets now lined with elderly people selling personal possessions from cardboard boxes, he said: "Belgrade is now a giant fleamarket. "Poverty levels have doubled in the last year to 63 per cent. More than 500,000 people, many of them refugees housed in makeshift shelters, are in desperate need of humanitarian aid. Wages have plummeted. Hospitals have no bandages or drugs." A total ban on medicine and fuel imports, financial transactions, flights and sporting exchanges was introduced last year, following the bombing (which included the use of depleted uranium - killing hundreds and causing long-term environmental damage). These latest sanctions, combined with the effects of 10 years of war, are destroying the country, Mr Radovic said. He explained: Madeleine Allbright has said sanctions lead to the overthrow of oppressive regimes. They do the opposite. They punish the poorest people while putting money into the pockets of their oppressors who control the black market. "A powerful new Mafia-type class - recognisable by ostentatious cars and designer clothes - now rules Belgrade," he said, explaining: "No clear message has been given as to why there are sanctions or what we must do to get them removed. If they were stopped there would be an immediate psychological effect. Milosovic trades on the fact that he can tell people the West hates them. His power base would be eroded once sanctions are lifted." CAFOD is the first foreign agency to return to Serbia after the bombing. With local partners they are focussing on getting basic medical supplies, food and clothing to areas of greatest need. During his visit, Mr Radovic had 'constructive talks' with aid agencies, the Foreign Office, Lord Alton, Fr Frank Turner from the Bishops&039; Conference and MPs Peter Bottomley, Kevin McNamara, and Paul Goggins.

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