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Crisis in Yugoslavia

Clinton Firm on Allies' Demands for Ending Airstrikes

Balkans: Trying to head off expected overtures from Milosevic to split alliance, president says NATO won't accept 'half-measures.' Mission fails to win soldiers' release.

April 10, 1999|JAMES GERSTENZANG and CHRIS KRAUL | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

WASHINGTON — With U.S. officials fearing that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic is about to unleash a diplomatic offensive intended to divide NATO, President Clinton launched a preemptive strike Friday, saying that the United States and its partners in the campaign against Yugoslavia "will not settle for half-measures."

The president's aides say they anticipate an effort by Milosevic to present the North Atlantic Treaty Organization with a pruned olive branch, now that the war and his troops have uprooted perhaps half a million ethnic Albanians from the separatist province of Kosovo in the last two weeks alone.

"If he starts down that road, that could cause problems," a senior White House official said, expressing concern that Milosevic could try to peel away some members of the alliance with peace gestures.

In the Balkans, the foul weather that stymied pilots attacking targets in Yugoslavia in the initial phase of the offensive--now more than 2 weeks old--made a return appearance Friday, but not before overnight airstrikes on bridges, roads and rail lines isolated Serbian forces. U.S. and British officials predicted that fuel and ammunition shortages could soon cause problems for the Yugoslav army.

In a setback for the allies, however, the diplomatic effort to win the freedom of three U.S. soldiers held by the Serbs appeared to have hit a dead end. It was unclear whether veteran Cypriot politician Spyros Kyprianou, who had met with Milosevic in a bid to gain the men's release, would even remain in Belgrade, the Yugoslav capital, for additional talks.

NATO's intensified bombing campaign, Kyprianou said, "didn't help" his efforts to negotiate the soldiers' release.

Pentagon officials, meanwhile, said they had received credible but unconfirmed reports that ethnic Albanian women had been herded into Serbian military training camps in southwest Kosovo, where they were raped and killed. And British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said he had received reports that "four lorry [truck] loads of bodies have been buried in Kosovo and a fifth load burnt."

In other developments:

* Pressure on Clinton to introduce ground troops into the campaign increased yet again. Members of the House and Senate who visited NATO headquarters in Brussels earlier this week drafted a letter urging him to plan for "additional military missions, including the use of ground forces" if necessary.

* Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin said if the Balkans fighting escalates, Russia might reconsider its decision not to send weapons to Yugoslavia, a longtime ally. He said he had told the United States, Germany and other NATO nations: "Don't push us to military action, or else there will be at least a European war, and maybe a world war." Russia has vehemently opposed the campaign against Yugoslavia, a longtime ally of Russia.

* All of the thousands of refugees moved from a muddy valley encampment near Blace on Macedonia's border with Kosovo have been accounted for, a spokeswoman for the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said. The refugees, whose location was unknown a day earlier, have been relocated in Albania and elsewhere in Macedonia, she said.

* Outlining what he called "indications of genocide," the State Department's chief war crimes investigator, David Scheffer, said civilian homes in at least 250 Kosovo towns and villages had been destroyed by burning or gunfire, and refugees had reported summary executions of military-age men in at least 50 towns.

Clinton Sticks With Allies' Demands

In hastily prepared remarks delivered before he boarded a helicopter Friday at the White House on his way to Philadelphia, Clinton said: "If we settle for half-measures from Mr. Milosevic, we will get nothing more. And what we have from Mr. Milosevic today is not even partial compliance, but the illusion of partial compliance. We and our allies have properly rejected it."

Clinton held to the allies' demands: Serbian military, police and paramilitary forces must withdraw from Kosovo; an international security force must be deployed there, with Milosevic's permission; all refugees must be permitted to return; and the province must move toward autonomy in secure conditions for all its people.

The president said that under the intensified attacks, Milosevic "has tried to rearrange the facts on the ground by declaring a cease-fire."

But, Clinton said, "The fundamental reality is unchanged." Innocent people have been attacked, refugees' escape routes are blocked, and Milosevic "hopes that we will accept as permanent the results of his ethnic cleansing," he said.

"We will not--not when a quarter of Kosovo's people are living in refugee camps beyond Kosovo's borders; not when hundreds of thousands more are trapped inside, afraid to go home but unable to leave," the president declared.

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