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Crisis in Yugoslavia

NATO Rushes to Send Troops, Aid to Help Refugees

Balkans: Allies face daunting challenge as crush of people fleeing Kosovo overwhelms region. Serbian forces could empty province of ethnic Albanians within 20 days.

April 04, 1999|JOHN-THOR DAHLBURG and ELIZABETH SHOGREN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

BRUSSELS — As the tide of refugees forced from Kosovo swelled to stunning proportions, the NATO allies Saturday scrambled to commit troops and humanitarian aid to a massive relief effort.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization announced plans to send 6,000 to 8,000 troops to Albania to assist in refugee operations and to set up a forward headquarters to provide logistic support for the relief effort.

Jamie Shea, NATO spokesman here, said Serbian forces on Saturday pushed another 130,000 ethnic Albanians out of the Serbian province of Kosovo, bringing to 765,000 the total displaced since the purge began in March.

He estimated that, at this pace, Serbian forces will have removed the province's 1.8 million ethnic Albanians "in between 10 to 20 days from now."

In one sign of the pressures being felt by Kosovo's neighbors, Macedonia declared that it will not accept any ethnic Albanian refugees until the allies provide more help in dealing with the influx.

With long lines of refugees huddled at the borders, officials in Macedonia and other countries adjacent to the province expressed alarm that they soon would run out of enough food, water and sanitary facilities to cope with the hordes of displaced people, many of whom are now living outdoors in cold, wet weather.

In other developments:

* NATO missiles today struck the Yugoslav capital, Belgrade, for a second day in a row. Serbian civilian defense officials reported a police academy and a factory had been hit. On Saturday, NATO airstrikes destroyed two bridges across the Danube. The independent Beta news agency in Yugoslavia reported that seven people were injured, some seriously, in Novi Sad during the attack on one of the bridges.

* The Pentagon announced that it had ordered the U.S. aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt and a battle group of destroyers and frigates to the Adriatic to help bolster NATO forces. The carrier, with 78 aircraft, including 46 attack planes, is expected to arrive Monday.

* Serbian forces in Kosovo have been carrying out a series of massacres against ethnic Albanians in a triangle of territory in the southern part of the province, refugees fleeing the province say. In one incident, 70 men reportedly were slain beside a river. The reports have been partially corroborated by injuries of the survivors and by a videotape taken by Milaim Bellanica, 31, and smuggled out of the province. The videotape shows bodies that Bellanica said were men from his village of Krusa e Madhe who had been slain by Serbian forces.

* In Bosnia-Herzegovina, troops of the U.S.-led peacekeeping mission blew up a key stretch of railway near the Yugoslav border to block Serbian military movements into Montenegro, Yugoslavia's smaller republic. Western leaders claim that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic is plotting a coup against the pro-Western government of the republic.

* In his weekly radio address Saturday, President Clinton defended the NATO air campaign as "necessary and right," saying the U.S. must "stand with all our NATO allies to see it through." Clinton met with his top foreign policy advisors to discuss plans for widening the air campaign. He also spoke by telephone with British Prime Minister Tony Blair and several other allied leaders.

* The State Department said the United States, Britain, France, Italy and Germany had agreed to demand that any peace accord signed with Yugoslavia provide for the return of ethnic Albanian refugees to Kosovo under escort by NATO peacekeeping forces.

The statement, issued by foreign ministers of the five countries, marked the first time that the allies have committed troops to accompany refugees into Kosovo.

Western Governments Also Rushing Food

Faced with a mounting refugee crisis in the region, Western governments Saturday rushed food and supplies to Albania and Macedonia. An Air Force C-17 cargo plane flew from Dover Air Force Base, Del., with 30,000 high-calorie packaged meals destined for refugees in Albania. Over the next several days, military and Pentagon-contracted civilian planes are to ferry 500,000 meals to Albania, Pentagon spokesman Kenneth H. Bacon told a news conference.

The government of Macedonia--which already is sheltering 120,000 ethnic Albanians and is expected to face another 200,000 to 300,000 at its borders over the next several days--announced Saturday that it will only accept more refugees from Kosovo if they are in transit to another nation.

"The Republic of Macedonia cannot accept so many refugees," said Deputy Prime Minister Radmila Kiprijanova. "It will threaten our security, disturb public order, cause economic collapse and political instability."

Interior Minister Pavle Trajanov said the border would not be closed, but that "Macedonia will accept only as many refugees as other countries are willing to accept."

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