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Crisis in Yugoslavia

Refugees Must Be Allowed to Return, Clinton Tells Serbs

Balkans: As number of displaced Kosovo Albanians tops 850,000, president vows to prevent Milosevic from locking in gains made during 'ethnic cleansing.'

April 06, 1999|NORMAN KEMPSTER and ELIZABETH SHOGREN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

WASHINGTON — With Yugoslavia pressing ahead with its brutal "ethnic cleansing" campaign to empty Kosovo of ethnic Albanians, President Clinton vowed Monday to punish the Serbian military so mercilessly that it will have no choice but to allow refugees to return.

The number of ethnic Albanians displaced from Kosovo now exceeds 850,000 out of the Serbian province's prewar population of 2 million, and Clinton conceded that the NATO bombing campaign will last much longer than originally hoped and will do little in the short run to protect the refugees.

Although the president continued to rule out the use of ground troops for combat in Kosovo, he ordered U.S. infantry units to neighboring Albania and Macedonia to deliver relief supplies to refugees and to protect humanitarian aid operations from cross-border Serbian attacks.

He vowed not to allow Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to negotiate a cease-fire locking in his gains after expelling most of the ethnic Albanians, who made up 90% of Kosovo's population before the war.

"The ethnic cleansing of Kosovo cannot stand as a permanent event," Clinton said. The only acceptable long-term solution, he said, is for the refugees to return to their villages, rebuild their demolished homes and restart their shattered lives.

British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, briefing reporters in London, said the tide of refugees represents a "mass deportation [like] we have not seen since the days of Stalin and Hitler." With the addition of previous dislocations since 1991 in the former Yugoslav federation, about 3.5 million citizens have "lost their homes and heritage," he said.

Troops from NATO countries were rapidly erecting tent cities Monday near Blace, Macedonia, to shelter tens of thousands of refugees, some of whom have been suffering in a muddy, cold border zone for days. Some soldiers, doctors and relief workers began wearing surgical masks at the camp because of the smell. Illness was rampant.

In other developments:

* Aided by clearing skies, NATO struck fuel depots, bridges and army barracks throughout Yugoslavia, and said it was taking particular aim at Serbian ground forces accused of terrorizing ethnic Albanians.

* NATO aircraft took a series of photographs of Yugoslav armor deployed as troops emptied the western Kosovo village of Glodjane over the weekend, herded villagers together and torched their homes, but alliance officials in Brussels said the allies were unable to stop the troops. It was unclear what happened to the villagers.

* Defense Secretary William S. Cohen conceded that a debate had occurred within the Joint Chiefs of Staff on the wisdom of using air power alone in Kosovo. But he said all of the uniformed chiefs ultimately endorsed the NATO bombing campaign as the best of a series of bad alternatives.

* Milosevic brushed off the onslaught, defiantly promising to rebuild bomb-damaged structures and denouncing the United States and its allies as "aggressors" and "criminals."

* David Scheffer, the administration's chief war-crimes investigator, found many of the signs of genocide during an investigation into the conduct of Serbian forces in Kosovo, the State Department said.

* A senior NATO diplomatic delegation, headed by Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, arrived in Sofia, Bulgaria, for talks about the Kosovo crisis. Talbott told reporters: "There is a serious threat to the security, stability and peace in this region. . . . The U.S. and Bulgaria see that threat fundamentally the same way, and we are working in our own ways to meet that threat."

* U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan accused Serbian forces of "shocking violations of human rights" in uprooting hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanians from their homes. It was Annan's most outspoken denunciation of Yugoslavia since the conflict began.

With the influx of refugees swamping facilities in Albania and Macedonia, NATO countries have announced plans to temporarily resettle 100,000 refugees away from the border. The United States agreed to take about 20,000, probably housing them in a refugee camp at the Guantanamo naval base in Cuba that was previously used to house Haitians and Cubans fleeing their home countries. Germany agreed to accept 40,000, the largest total of any country.

But Clinton insisted that the relocations will not be permanent, as refugee resettlements from other parts of the world sometimes turn out to be.

"The refugees belong in their own homes on their own land," Clinton said. "Our immediate goal is to provide relief. Our long-term goal is to give them their right to return."

But clearly, their return is impossible as long as Milosevic's army holds sway in the province. And unless Milosevic unexpectedly reverses course and agrees to a peaceful return of the displaced ethnic Albanians, Clinton said, NATO will pound the Yugoslav army until it is no longer able to resist.

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