Donors pledge 300 million euros for Balkan refugees
04/24/2012 18:00 GMT
by Rusmir Smajilhodzic
SARAJEVO, April 24, 2012 (AFP) - A global donor conference Tuesday pledged 300 million euros to build homes for some 74,000 war refugees in four former Yugoslav republics, enabling construction to start in autumn.
"During the donor conference we obtained confirmation for more than 300 million euros ($396 million) and we are satisfied with that," Bosnian Refugee Minister Damir Ljubic, told journalists.
"It is a very important amount to start implementation of our programme and it will allow us to start it within the planned deadlines," he added.
The programme is backed by the European Union, the United States, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the UN refugee agency UNHCR.
The European Union, with over 230 million euros pledged for the five-year project, is the biggest donor.
"Today's conference is a clear sign that this region wishes to leave its past behind, without forgetting kids and move on towards the future as a good European neighbour," EU Commissioner for Enlargement Stefan Fuele said.
"It is an excellent example of a very good regional cooperation of the four countries involved," he added.
The governments of four Balkan states -- Bosnia, Croatia, Montenegro and Serbia -- will together contribute 83 million euros.
"This is a day to celebrate as we all commit to write the last chapter of the displacement tragedy of the Western Balkans in the 1990s," UNHCR chief Antonio Guterres said.
He was referring to the wars that raged as the former Yugoslavia was disintegrating.
The conflicts in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo claimed more than 130,000 lives and forced more than three million people to flee their homes. Some 200,000 people in the region are still refugees.
The main beneficiaries of the programme will be the most vulnerable refugees who still live in shelters. The others live either with relatives or were already given better housing facilities.
Guterres stressed that a solution for refugees problem was "always political" and praised the four governments, some of whom are former foes, for joining forces.
"All (four) governments were able to come together to show the political will ... (and) the leadership to overcome the shadows of the past and find pragmatic solutions for intricate problems," he said.
His view was echoed by David Robinson, a senior US State Department official whose country pledged 7.5 million euros.
"This collective effort will help 74,000 people to close a very painful chapter of their past and open a new chapter of hope for the future," Robinson stressed.
He praised Bosnia, Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro for "having the political will to put people first, to put people ahead of history".
Most of the funds -- 63 percent -- will be spent in Serbia, which became home to a large number of ethnic Serbs who fled Croatia at the end of the 1991-95 war there.
Bosnia will get 20 percent of the funds, and Croatia and Montenegro 13 and four percent respectively.
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