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Neighbours help flooded Serbia and BiH

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Organisations in Croatia, Slovenia, Montenegro, Macedonia and Turkey are providing humanitarian aid to Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) following catastrophic floods that killed dozens and have left thousands homeless. The countries have sent specially trained teams, equipment, water, food, medicine and volunteers to Serbian and BiH authorities.

"The assistance is part of the agreement we have with the respective institutions in Serbia and BiH dealing with crisis management. We are constantly in touch and implement all activities in accordance with their needs and plans," Montenegro's government said in a statement.

Macedonia deployed divers, lifeguards and mountaineers -- members of Macedonia's special police unit Tigers -- an Mi-17 helicopter, 45 water pumps, 35 generators, 3,000 blankets, a medical team and medicines.

"Given the humanitarian dimension of this disaster we are helping as much as possible," Shaban Saliu, director of Macedonia's Protection and Rescue Directorate, told SETimes. "This shows how much goodwill and co-operation there is among the regional states any time when it is needed."

Macedonia also supplied Serbia with 80 megawatts of electricity per hour, while the water bottling facility Kozuvcanka provided 30,000 bottles of water.

Telephone firms T-Mobile, One and VIP established a donation line for citizens to call and donate the equivalent of 1.5 euro with each call.

The Red Cross offices in Croatia, Montenegro, Slovenia and Macedonia organised donation sites for clothes, food and products for personal hygiene items.

"We opened telephone lines for citizens and companies to donate in a specially established solidarity fund," Suzana Tuneva, Red Cross secretary of the Skopje branch, told SETimes.

The Red Cross of Macedonia has collected 240 tonnes of food, clothing and other items.

Croatia, itself partially affected by the floods, sent 10 fire trucks, boats and additional equipment to Serbia along with a small specially trained team of the protection and rescue directorate. Two Croatian military helicopters complete with crews and soldiers have been at the disposal of BiH's authorities since May 15th.

"This disaster situation showed a quick demonstration of solidarity that is invaluable when it comes to saving lives and caring for people," Idriz Brkovic of the BiH security ministry told SETimes.

Moreover, twin municipalities sent more than 15,000 sand bags, 20,000 litres of water and canned food. "We are twinned with Bijeljina and Banja Luka [in BiH] as well as with several municipalities in Serbia. These people have gone through more difficult times, but we are here to help every time there is a need," Maksim Dimitrievski, president of the Kumanovo municipality council, told SETimes.

The overwhelming assistance shows the Balkans can be unified then when it is most needed, said Srecko Stojanovic, president of the Serbian association Koshtana.

"The presence of people from throughout the region and the moral and other support shows that the Balkans can show humanity despite all the problems it is facing," Stojanovic told SETimes.

Sport and music stars use their influence to generate additional awareness of the need to help the affected people. Montenegro's national volleyball team scheduled a humanitarian donation prior to a match with Croatia on Saturday (May 17th). Some of the best-known music performers in Macedonia, including Karolina Goceva and Vlatko Stefanovski, scheduled a joint humanitarian concert on May 28th. All proceeds will go to the victims of the floods.

People overcome political and national affiliations during such catastrophic natural disasters, said Marko Milosevic, a researcher at the Belgrade Centre for Security Studies.

"Some of the more known regional initiatives include Tisa Battalion -- a military formation with members from Romania, Hungary and Ukraine whose task is to prevent the Tisa River from flooding," Milosevic told SETimes.

Turkey has been assisting BiH and Serbia since the first days of the disaster, assisting rescues and providing supplies, ranging from blankets to kitchen sets to power generators. Agencies involved include charities as well as the government and military.

"A climate of close relations and co-operation in every field prevails between Turkey and Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia, which we consider as our neighbours in the Balkans," Turkey's Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Didem Ekinci, a Balkan expert from Ankara's Cankaya University, said Turkey has shown an interest in helping those affected since the flooding began, and that efforts will continue when the water subsides.

"There is also a need for post-efforts also for helping people in the region to recover their losses from such a wide-scale disaster," she said.

Correspondents Ana Lovakovic in Sarajevo, Ivana Jovanovic in Belgrade and Menekse Tokyay in Istanbul contributed to this report.