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Winter disaster feared in Balkans

A group of U.S. religious leaders issued an emotional appeal this week for increased aid from voluntary and government groups to stave off disaster in the Balkan republics.

At the same time, the five leaders, representing Roman Catholics, Orthodox Christians and Jews, said the warring ethnic groups must permit aid to reach the most vulnerable populations.

The Balkan states of the former Yugoslavia, which include Serbia, Bosnia and Croatia, are known for harsh winters. The bitter warfare between rival ethnic groups has destroyed shelters and created hundreds of thousands of refugees ill-prepared to weather the winter.

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"Disaster' may soon be inadequate to describe what the world will face in a few months from the deadly combination of war and winter," the religious leaders said. "The already appalling suffering in the Balkans could pale in comparison to what winter might bring."

The appeal was issued at a news conference here by Shaykh Abd'Allah Latif Ali, family elder of the Admiral Family Circle of the Islamic community of New York; Archbishop Iakovos, primate of the Greek Orthodox Church of North and South America; the Rev. Leonid Kishkovsky, past president of the National Council of Churches; Cardinal Bernard Law, archbishop of Boston; and Rabbi A. James Rudin, director of national interreligious affairs for the American Jewish Committee.

Some have estimated that as many 100,000 people could die over the winter if aid is not forthcoming.

The religious leaders issued a five-point statement of recommended actions, including:

Security for relief efforts.

Vastly increased contributions from governments for aid to refugees, such as food, shelter and clothing, as well as winterization programs in refugee camps.

Better coordination of aid by the United Nations, the European Community, the U.S. government and private voluntary organizations.

A compassionate response by all who are able, especially Americans, to appeals of private voluntary agencies.

An intensified effort by the international community to bring an end to the conflict.

"While this conflict has had regrettable religious overtones, we believe that our common task as believers is to be peacemakers," the leaders said.

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