AS WAR IN BALKANS CONTINUES, AID AWAITS ELSEWHERE Relief officials in Baltimore criticize bureaucratic delays


Because of an editing error, attribution of two quotations in an article about Serbian relief in yesterday's editions was transposed. A Treasury Department spokesman said, "The U.N.

gives them a thorough examination and requires various levels of approval."

And relief official Mark Schnellbaecher said, "This is humanitarian aid, not a commercial transaction. . . ."

The Sun regrets the error.

A California psychologist who volunteered in July to train 50 war-trauma counselors in Serbia hasn't departed yet because United Nations bureaucrats haven't cleared the $7,000 to be spent there for her expenses, Baltimore-based relief officials complained yesterday.

Forty mental-health kits of drugs and medical supplies -- each to supply a 50-bed ward in a mental hospital for a month -- have been sitting in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, since August because of the red tape at the United Nations, they said.

In Cleveland, a container of medication sits in a warehouse because the required paperwork is allegedly lost somewhere between the U.S. Treasury Department's Foreign Assets Control Office and the U.S. mission at the United Nations, the relief workers said.

The forced delays violate the exemption for humanitarian aid included in U.N. sanctions resolutions and U.S. executive orders against Serbia and Montenegro, the Federal Republic of

Yugoslavia, said Mark Schnellbaecher, programs director of the International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC).

Mr. Schnellbaecher travels to Belgrade every two weeks.

A U.S. Treasury spokesman said, "It's just a very long process." The Treasury and State departments process the applications "in a matter of days" before sending them to the United Nations Sanctions Commission.

"The U.N. gives them a thorough examination and requires various levels of approval," Mr. Schnellbaecher said.

"This is humanitarian aid, not a commercial transaction. We're not selling them plywood. It's an emergency program, and we feel it should be treated as such," the spokesman said.

Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, R-Md.-2nd, who is of Serbian descent and who has kept a low profile after being criticized for her efforts on behalf of Serbia, said yesterday, "They are supposed to be allowing humanitarian aid, and it's not happening. That's wrong."

She said 700,000 refugees from Bosnia, including Muslims, Croats and Serbs, are living in homes in Serbia.

"They are having great difficulty feeding these refugees and themselves because the humanitarian aid is not getting through," Mrs. Bentley said.

The IOCC, with headquarters at the Rotunda in North Baltimore, was founded in March 1992 as the nonprofit humanitarian agency of Eastern Orthodox Churches in the United States and Canada. It has worked in Russia, Egypt and Haiti, as well as in the Balkans.

At least 50 international relief agencies work from Zagreb, in Croatia, but only about five have representatives in Belgrade, capital of the former Yugoslavia, Mr. Schnellbaecher said.

Those being hurt are "the most vulnerable people, the mentally ill, children, the aged and pregnant women. They are not culpable in any way and they are the people least able to help themselves," the IOCC official said. "The war and the sanctions are having the worst effect on those who can least with stand it."

Before the United Nations tightened international sanctions against Serbia and Montenegro last spring, the International Orthodox Christian Charities shipped regularly under a blanket license from the U.S. Treasury, which the United Nations accepted for up to $5 million in food and medicine, Mr. Schnellbaecher said.

Subsequently, the agency has been forced to apply to the Treasury and the U.N. Sanctions Commission for licenses for every IOCC shipment, large or small, and there were ever-more hoops to jump through, said Rula Ghani, IOCC procurement and logistics director.

For example, she said, the IOCC was told it had to get a permit from the Dutch government to ship the mental-health supplies ++ from Amsterdam to Belgrade. "The application is still sitting at the U.N. Sanctions Commission and the kits are still sitting in Amsterdam," Ms. Ghani said.

Mr. Schnellbaecher said he does not oppose the imposition of the U.N. sanctions -- "they're better than bombing" -- but they appear to be "backfiring" because Serbia's president, Slobodan Milosevic, is waging a propaganda campaign blaming the United Nations for his people's horrible living conditions.

The sanctions were imposed originally to persuade the Serbian people to overthrow the regime of Mr. Milosevic, who some consider the chief cause of the Balkans war, "but either by intent or application they seem to have moved from a coercive to a punitive effect," Mr. Schnellbaecher said.

Earlier this week, Mr. Schnellbaecher said he spoke with a senior official at the National Security Council and was told that there has been no change in U.S. policy regarding humanitarian aid and that it is being applied uniformly.

Ms. Ghani said she finds officials increasingly difficult to reach, and when she gets through is told that the licenses are delayed because of "overwork" at Treasury, the State Department and the United Nations.

Because Serbia is considered the aggressor in the Balkans war and its leaders war criminals, there is little American interest in helping there, Mr. Schnellbaecher said.

"Nobody wants to help the lepers," he said.

Still, he said, even though humanitarian aid is exempt from restrictions, those who desperately need it are not getting it.

"The whole thing is about politics, but these people have no politics, they are below politics," Mr. Schnellbaecher said.

He said the IOCC has a dozen workers, including two Americans, based in Belgrade whose job is to identify needs and follow up to see that relief supplies are not diverted. So far, none has been diverted because there is no black-market value in the psychotropic drugs, Mr. Schnellbaecher said.

"They have visited every mental hospital in both countries and now are working on orphanages, homes for the elderly and maternity homes," he said.

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