By Amanda Costikyan Jones
WASHINGTON – Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville, will travel overseas Friday as part of a select group of congressmen and senators to get a firsthand look at the ongoing conflict in Yugoslavia.
The delegation’s plane will leave Friday morning and return Sunday evening, after visiting U.S. troops in Italy, NATO headquarters in Brussels and, perhaps, refugee camps near the Yugoslavian border. Officials organizing the trip said Thursday afternoon that they were still awaiting approval to visit camps in either Albania or Macedonia.
“He’s hoping to get an even clearer and better understanding of the situation over there,” said Hoyer’s policy director, Cory Alexander.
Alexander said Hoyer will speak to U.S. troops to get an “assessment of what their thoughts are.” He said the congressman also wants to hear refugees speak about atrocities they may have experienced at the hands of Serbian forces, to “see firsthand how bad the situation really is.”
Hoyer is the ranking minority member of the Helsinki Commission, which monitors international human rights, and has traveled in the Balkans, including a 1991 trip to Kosovo.
That background contributed to his selection for the trip, said Alexander and an aide to House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, D-Mo., who tapped Hoyer to be one of four House Democrats on the trip. The numbers were still in flux Thursday afternoon, but organizers said they expected about 20 lawmakers would make the trip.
“Congressman Hoyer’s been involved in this part of the world for many years and has made several trips to the region, and so he’s a natural choice,” said Sue Harvey, a spokeswoman for Gephardt’s office.
Hoyer said he has long advocated military action against Yugoslavian President Slobodan Milosevic. “I supported taking action as soon as the conflict in Kosovo began in early 1998,” he said in an April 6 talk at the University of Maryland in College Park, about two weeks after the bombing began.
“Intervention to stop the aggression against civilians in Kosovo is not only morally the right thing to do but, I submit, clearly in America’s national interest,” Hoyer said, according to a transcript his office provided of his April 6 remarks.
“Milosevic’s history … is that he uses his forces against civilians …. In my opinion, had we acted sooner in Europe, tens of thousands of lives may have been saved,” he said in that talk.
Harvey said the delegation will be expected to report back to Congress about what it learns on the trip.
“The delegation that’s participating in the trip are the members who are going to play a key role in overseeing the operation,” advising Congress as it undertakes votes on military action and foreign aid, she said.