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Yugoslavia: UN Says No Ecological Catastrophe

Belgrade, 27 July 1999 (RFE/RL) - The head of a UN expert team said today there is no evidence that NATO bombing has caused any major ecological catastrophe in Yugoslavia. But Pekka Haavisto, chairman of the UN's Balkan Task Force, called for urgent action to deal with some of the damage. Haavisto was speaking to reporters at the end of his team's 10-day tour of sites in Serbia. The team visited eight towns where NATO hit a wide range of targets -- including fuel refineries, fertilizer plants and petrochemical units -- in the 11-week air campaign. Haavisto said that in many sites the environmental situation had been very bad even before the launch of the NATO air strikes. He added that the team had good cooperation from the Yugoslav authorities. He also said the scientists had been granted access to all sites except some in Kosovo's capital, Pristina, where mines placed during the conflict had not been cleared.

Also today, the Kosovo peacekeeping force (KFOR) announced that German troops had discovered several tons of weapons belonging to the Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK).

KFOR's spokesman Lutz Peters told reporters that the weapons included heavy mortars and bazookas. They were found in Kucina, near Prizren. Under the peace agreement, the UCK was supposed to hand over those weapons to supervised storage last week (July 21).

The UCK said today they had forgotten to report it to KFOR.

Meanwhile, the European Union today said that the estimated cost of reconstructing houses in the province could go as high as 1.1 billion euros.

Roy Dickinson, spokesman for the EU, said in Pristina that about 125,000 houses were damaged in Kosovo, including some 78,000 severely destroyed. Dickinson also said that 534 school buildings were damaged, with 181 destroyed. Dickinson also said that Kosovo has suffered major losses in agriculture, with the harvest reaching only 40 percent of normal production.

In a separate development, Serbia's main pro-democracy group announced plans for a general strike and blockades for early September across the country in an effort to oust Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic from power.

The Alliance for Change coalition said the strike will include unions, farmers, political parties and their supporters. Coalition coordinator Vladan Batic said the opposition has collected 500,000 signatures on petitions calling for Milosevic's resignation.