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Shelter Project Shields Kosovars From Cold But Damage Still Extensive

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Visit by CARE leaders highlights huge reconstruction task ahead
ATLANTA (January 26, 2000) - Though much progress has been made in the recovery of war-torn Kosovo, it's evident to CARE leaders that there's a long, difficult road still ahead. On the first day of their trip to Kosovo, Guy Tousignant, secretary-general of CARE International, and Peter D. Bell, president and CEO of CARE USA, visited the village of Bicec, near Prizren, where they saw part of CARE's extensive shelter and roofing program.

"Even in the very short time we've been here, the huge challenge facing the humanitarian community is becoming ever more apparent," Bell said.

More than half of the 100,000 homes that were severely damaged during the recent conflict are beyond repair and must be completely rebuilt.

As a Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) stronghold during the war, Bicec bore the brunt of much of the fighting. Many living in the village braved a treacherous 26-hour journey across steep mountain ranges in their flight to safety during the height of the conflict. Though most villagers have since returned, others remain as refugees in Europe.

Touring the village, Bell and Tousignant watched as former KLA combatants worked to rebuild homes - under a project managed by the International Organization of Migration - in 20-degree temperatures. For the time being, heavy-duty tarpaulins are serving as roofs to keep families warm and dry during the harsh Balkans winter. Later they will be replaced by traditional timber-tiled roofs.

During their tour, the humanitarian leaders met the Latife family, who lost their home in the conflict but soon expect to move into their rebuilt one. Beqir Latife, a farmer, and his family received warm clothes and other basics from CARE to help see them through the winter months. CARE also has provided them with wheat seed and fertilizer so they can resume their small-scale farming.

Demolished homes are not the only grim reminders of the war littering the once rich and fertile fields in Bicec. Kosovo now is considered the second most heavily-mined region in the world after Angola. CARE's mine teams have been marking minefields and providing mine-awareness training for the villagers. Once the snow melts this spring, the mine experts will continue mine-clearance operations.

"We've been hugely impressed by the strength, dignity and resourcefulness of the people we've met," added Bell. "CARE wants to ensure that local people from every community remain involved in the decision-making process as they work alongside the international humanitarian community to rebuild this region shattered by conflict."

CARE is one of the world's largest private international relief and development organizations, with projects in more than 60 countries. CARE has worked in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia since 1993, assisting displaced Serb refugees from Bosnia, and in Kosovo since 1998, implementing shelter repair, food distribution and other relief projects. CARE is now working in the Ferizaj (Urosevac), Lipljan and Mitrovica areas with a comprehensive emergency program including food distribution, shelter provision and repair, agricultural rehabilitation, community health, mine-awareness training and demining.

CONTACT: Amy Lynn O'Toole, (404) 681-4579, ext. 383