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Crisis in Yugoslavia

Limited Strikes Hit Targets as Albright Prepares for Talks

Balkans: Allies restrict air attacks because of holiday and weather in Yugoslavia. Secretary of State is to meet today with NATO foreign ministers in Brussels.

April 12, 1999|BOB DROGIN and NORMAN KEMPSTER | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

WASHINGTON — Despite Yugoslav calls for a halt to air raids to mark the Orthodox Easter, NATO warplanes and missiles blasted numerous targets around Kosovo's capital, Pristina, on Sunday as Secretary of State Madeleine Albright flew to Brussels for urgent meetings with European allies.

A NATO spokesman said the overnight airstrikes were "relatively limited" because of the religious holiday and because heavy clouds continue to shroud the region.

But NATO said seven missions pounded a Yugoslav munitions dump, bridges, petroleum storage facilities and Serbian military forces in Kosovo as well as reinforcements farther north. Cruise missiles also hit two radio relay stations. Shortly after nightfall, a missile struck a residential area of the northern city of Novi Sad, the official Yugoslav Tanjug news agency reported. No casualties were reported.

Providing new details of the 19-day air war against Yugoslav military forces, U.S. Gen. Henry H. Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said many of the strikes have been aimed at unit headquarters for the Yugoslav 3rd Army and a special paramilitary police force. Both have been accused of carrying out the brutal "ethnic cleansing" of the ethnic Albanian majority in Kosovo, the southernmost province of Serbia.

The latest allied attacks came as NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana said Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic had shown signs that he might be willing to compromise on Kosovo, where he has waged a war against ethnic Albanian separatists for more than a year. Solana said he hopes to see some "positive" diplomatic movement in coming days.

But Defense Secretary William S. Cohen and other Clinton administration officials and members of Congress who blanketed Sunday's TV talk shows appeared to discount any political breakthroughs as long as Milosevic remains in power.

"I think that every day that goes by and we see more and more evidence of the kind of grotesque brutality that he or his forces have engaged in, either by his direct orders or his sufferance, is going to make it far more difficult to deal with him on any basis," said Cohen, who appeared with Shelton on ABC-TV's "This Week."

Appearing on NBC-TV's "Meet the Press," U.S. Gen. Wesley K. Clark, supreme commander of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, said the massive air campaign, now involving nearly 700 planes, is "on track and being intensified."

Clark said that the air war is "taking an ever-mounting toll" on Milosevic's forces and that NATO "has a long way to go" before ground troops might be needed. "I think we need to give the air campaign a chance to do its work, and I wouldn't want to speculate beyond that," he said.

Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott told the CBS-TV program "Face the Nation" that the Pentagon made elaborate plans to deploy ground troops in Kosovo last fall as part of a proposed NATO peacekeeping force and that the plans could be "taken down off the shelf and updated" if President Clinton decides it's necessary.

But for now, Talbott said, the air campaign "is going to continue and intensify, and we think it is sufficient."

In other developments:

* Russian Foreign Minister Igor S. Ivanov, who will meet Albright on Tuesday in Oslo, repeated Russia's calls for an immediate halt to the NATO bombing and said he believes that a political solution is still possible. Russia, a longtime ally of Yugoslavia, has vehemently opposed the air campaign.

* NATO officials in Brussels cited new evidence of possible Serbian atrocities, including satellite photos of what they said was a large, freshly dug trench that may be a mass grave near the Kosovo town of Pusto Selo. NATO spokesman Jamie Shea said the site looked "somewhat similar" to aerial shots of mass graves seen during the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

* Germany began collecting photographs, testimony and other evidence to document the fate of 200 villages in Kosovo that have been destroyed or emptied by Serbian forces.

* Masked gunmen killed Slavko Curuvija, one of Yugoslavia's most prominent independent journalists, outside his apartment just days after a pro-regime newspaper accused him of supporting the NATO bombing campaign.

* Albanian President Rexhep Mejdani urged the international community to create a massive aid package, similar to the Marshall Plan that rebuilt Europe after World War II, to promote economic recovery and democracy in the Balkans after the current crisis ends.

* The Kosovo refugee flow, which had narrowed to a trickle in recent days, stopped entirely. A spokeswoman for the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said she expects movement to resume after the Easter holiday, which continues today.

The NATO airstrikes continued amid fresh signs that attacks are "causing real anxiety for Yugoslav commanders" and morale problems among the Yugoslav troops on the ground, British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said Sunday in London.

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