Sick Kosovo children flown out for treatment in Britain and France

PRISTINA, Sep 10, 2000 -- (AFP) Thirty-six sick children from across Kosovo's rival communities flew out of Pristina airport today to receive treatment in Britain and France.

The operation was inspired by Kosovo's UN administrator, Bernard Kouchner, himself a doctor and one of the founders of Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors without Borders - MSF), and organized by the humanitarian agency Chain of Hope.

"It's a great day. It's the first 'Day against Violence' in Kosovo, where there is still a lot of violence remaining," Kouchner said, before joining the children in the plane.

He described the flight as a "drop of hope."

Saturday was declared a 'Day against Violence' by the signatories of the Airlie House declaration, political leaders from Kosovo's Albanian and Serbian communities who met under US-auspices in July to draw up a vow to refrain from violence. It was to be marked by rallies across Kosovo.

Among the youngsters were 24 ethnic Albanians, 11 Serbs and a Roma gypsy.

"Saving the life of a threatened Kosovar child is a step towards the future, and future full of hope because we have children hear representing different communities," said Alain Deloche, president of Chain of Hope and co-founder with Kouchner of MSF.

Eric Cheysson, a Parisian surgeon, said the children needed treatment for heart complaints, problems with their sight and organ failure, among other problems. They were to be treated in hospitals in Paris, Bordeaux, Monaco and London.

"All these sick kids would normally be treated in Belgrade, but their hospitals have run out of supplies -- catheters, syringes -- because of the embargo," he said, referring to the trade boycott imposed on Yugoslaviain 1992.

"Kosovo's medical infrastructure is still completely disorganized since the war," he said.

The six youngest children were accompanied by their mothers. All will be lodged with host families while they recover from treatment and should return home within three months.

The French contingent of Kosovo's KFOR peacekeeping force provided the transport to take the youngsters to a military airfield outside Paris.

The total cost of the operation, carried out with the assistance of the International Organization for Migrations, came to USD 125,000 (EUR 143,000), according to a statement from Chain of Hope.

Last year Chain of Hope brought 54 children out of Kosovo following the end of the province's 1998-1999 civil war between ethnic Albanian separatists and Yugoslavian forces.

Before heading to the airport Kouchner addressed a 6,000 strong crowd in Pristina's main street as part of a rally against violence.

On Friday a Kosovo Albanian aid worker employed by the Catholic aid agency Caritas was arrested on suspicion of shooting dead three Kosovo Albanian males, UN police said.

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