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Stop the bombing, says Ottawa opposition MP

Svend Robinson holds a cluster bomblet dropped by NATO.

Ottawa, May 26, 1999

by Carl Stieren

NATO has to stop bombing Yugoslavia for negotiations to end the war to succeed, according to New Democratic Party MP Svend Robinson.

Robinson, a Member of Parliament for the NDP since 1979, spoke about his trip to the Balkan States to 400 people in Ottawa on May 26. The meeting, at St. Johnís Anglican Church, was organized by the Coalition to Stop the War Against Yugoslavia .

Robinson flew a charter plane to Romania on May 17 and then drove to Belgrad, Yugoslavia, where he visited the site of the Chinese Embassy, bombed by NATO. Robinson met with Zivadin Jovanovic, the Yugoslav foreign minister, and with supporters of the opposition, including the Mayor of Belgrad.

"Walking through the rubble, the broken glass, the bricks outside the Chinese Embassy, I placed flowers in memory of those who died," Robinson said.

"Speaking English, I drew the attention of passers-by, and for the first time in my life, I was denounced as a NATO fascist," he said. "I could understand the anger the people of Belgrad felt."

Robinson, who is the foreign affairs and international human rights critic for the NDP and who is a member of the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, met with Yugoslav Foreign Minister Jovanovic and with the chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Yugoslav Parliament.

The MP also met with members of the opposition to Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosovic. All the oppoistion members said things had gotten much worse for them since the start of the bombing, Robinson said.

"'We used to have one enemy,' one opposition member told me, 'Milosovic. Now we have two: NATO and Milosovic,'" Robinson recounted.

Robinson condemned the NATO bombing unequivocally.

"If there is going to be any agreement, the bombing has to stop, and you don't have to take it from me -- (Victor) Chernomyrdin of Russia says the same thing."

Robinson held up a cluster bomblet that he had picked up in Pristina. "Cluster bombs -- and who are the victims? Farmers and civilians," he said. "There were the cluster bombs that killed so many civilians in Nis, shopping in a market. It was devastating and evil."

"The consequences of the NATO bombing are catastropic. The consequences of the use of depleted Uranium -- as we have seen in Iraq -- will be felt for decades to come."

Robinson said that an agreement in the Balkans would have to take into account the needs and the suffering of the refugees, for which Belgrad so far has not accepted responsibility.

"There was also a denial in Belgrad that there have been any atrocities against the Kosovar Albanians," he said, "and statements that the sole responsibility for (creating) refugees was the KLA and the NATO bombings."

"The peacekeeping force that will (eventually) be in Kosovo cannot be a NATO force," Robinson said. "It has to be a UN-led force that would exclude those who have been dropping bombs. There are a number of NATO countries who have not been dropping bombs, and Russia would also be a key member of such a force."

The Member of Parliament also lashed out against the war's profit-makers. "One of the ugliest facts is that those who are making the greatest profits in this war are the makers of armaments. Shares in Rayethon have gone up 17 per cent since the bombing started on March 24."

Robinson's most difficult moment of the evening came when he was asked why he and his party originally supported the NATO bombing when it began on March 24, before changing its mind in April.

"I was not alone .. in taking the position that with the inability of the UN to respond, the inability we have seen in other conflicts, in Uganda and in Bosnia, we had hoped that this strategy of selected bombing of military targets -- that's what we were told -- would bring Milosovic to the table," he said, "but it didn't work."

Robinson went further, coming just short of demanding Canada's withdrawal from NATO.

"My party's position has been (in the past) for Canada to withdraw from NATO," he said. "NATO has been led by the US. And a country that doesn't pay its dues to the UN, that doesn't respect international law, should be the last country to lead such a military alliance."

The statement drew thunderous applause from the crowd.

Robinson told of driving to Pristina in a two-car convoy with Yugoslav government officials, becoming the first foreign politician to visit Kosovo since the bombing began.

"There was an eerie silence and emptiness as we passed empty villages in Kosovo, without a single person in them."

Robinson told of a chilling encounter he had with Russian mercenaries in the Grand Hotel in Pristina. He heard these men, who were carrying Kalishnikovs, speaking Russian. He asked them, in English, what they were doing there.

"We are here to kill Muslims," one of them told him. The man who said these words had also been in Bosnia as a mercenary.

The questions of refugees and of borders are the most difficult and complex in the conflict.

"Many of us haven't grasped the fact of what (history since) 1389 means to Serbia," he said. "The territorial integrity of Serbia -- including Kosovo -- was seen as being absolutely non-negotiable."

"And there's a terrible double standard here. There were 220,000 (Serbian) refugees from Krajina in 1995, and there was no such concern for them," he said, referring to the driving out -- ethnic cleansing -- done by Croatia in the Krajina territory, which drew no response from NATO.

When asked if he would support a Balkan-wide conference that could redraw borders, Robinson said no.

"Changing frontiers -- that gets very dangerous," he said. "But a conference amoung civil society -- absolutely. Anything to take this out of the hands of the generals, and even out of the hands of the politicians. The labour movement in the Balkans has been very involved recently."

He left Kosovo on foot, walking alone across the border to Macedonia. There he visited camps of refugees from Kosovo, travelled to Albania, and then returned to Canada .

The New Democratic Party, with 21 Members in the Canadian Parliament, is the successor party to the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, which under Saskatchewan Premier Tommy Douglas introduced the first universal public medical care in Canada in the 1950s. The NDP, Canada's social democratic party, is the governing party in the provinces of Saskatchewan and British Columbia.

To this reporter, the meeting, with its expression of the complexities of the war and its concern for all sides, seemed a world away from Parliament Hill and the mainstream media in Ottawa. When the bombings had just begun, there was an initial openness among Canadian media. CBC television held a Town Hall Meeting moderated by Peter Mansbridge, with Peggy Land and Abby Polonetsky of Ottawa Monthly Meeting among the participants. As the bombing progressed, coverage turned to repetitions of NATO news breifings and constant focus on Albanian Kosovar refugees. This tide has just begun to turn, with coverage of Robinson's speech by the Ottawa Citizen on page three on May 27 -- the first C-SWAY event ever covered by the Citizen. The story even mentioned the upcoming demonstration by the coalition on Parliament Hill and gave the date and time -- 1:00 p.m. Saturday, May 29.

The meeting was also videotaped by C-SPAN, the Canadian Parliamentary Cable network, for broadcast across the country. C-SPAN also covered the teach-in that C-SWAY held on May 19, which has since been broadcast twice nationwide.

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Written May 27, 1999, by C.S.