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CRISIS IN YUGOSLAVIA

NATO Shows Unity as Air Campaign Widens

Balkans: Allies discuss ground forces, make no decision. Passenger train destroyed in raid on Serbian railway.

April 13, 1999|BOB DROGIN and NORMAN KEMPSTER | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

WASHINGTON — The 19 foreign ministers of NATO vowed after an emergency session Monday to intensify the air war against Yugoslav military forces until President Slobodan Milosevic gives in, as an allied airstrike on a strategic Serbian railway bridge left a passenger train in flames with heavy civilian casualties.

NATO ministers, meeting for the first time since the air attacks began 20 days ago, discussed deploying combat ground troops in an attempt to force a rollback of Milosevic's military from the embattled province of Kosovo, but reached no decision.

Officials said NATO's top policy-making group acknowledged, however, that armed "peacekeeping" ground troops may be sent to Kosovo without a formal cease-fire if the bombing campaign damages the Yugoslav army so badly that it is unable to fight back.

Sending troops to keep the peace before a formal cease-fire would appear to blur the definition of the "permissive" environment that NATO long has held would be necessary before peacekeeping troops might be sent.

President Clinton vowed to keep the air campaign going. "We are determined to continue on with this mission, and we will prevail," he told U.S. Air Force bomber crews at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana.

Clinton said the goal is to prevent a wider conflict. "We would like to nip this conflict in the bud before it destabilizes all of Europe," he said.

At their meeting in Brussels, the NATO ministers ordered allied military commanders to devise ways to deliver relief supplies to at least 230,000 ethnic Albanians who have been driven from their homes in the "ethnic cleansing" of Kosovo, but who have remained in the war-torn province.

Despite overcast skies, waves of NATO warplanes roared across Yugoslavia's heartland, pounding a major oil refinery, fuel depots, a military airfield, a heavy machinery plant and the factory that makes Yugo cars, which NATO said was housed in a complex that also makes military vehicles and other weapons.

Daytime airstrikes in Kosovo, the southernmost province of Serbia, the dominant republic in Yugoslavia, were the heaviest since the NATO campaign began March 24. At least six powerful explosions rocked Pristina, the provincial capital, including one that knocked out the main power station. Early today, more explosions shook a fuel storage depot in Pristina, setting off heavy explosions and a huge fire that lighted up the sky. In other developments Monday:

* Clinton consulted on Kosovo with House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), Senate Republican leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.), House Republican leader Dick Armey (R-Texas), House Democratic leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.) and Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.). He will meet today with a bipartisan group of 50 to 60 lawmakers as Congress resumes after a two-week recess.

* ABC News reported that allied officials suspect someone within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization tipped off Serbian authorities to several specific targets in the bombing campaign, including the Interior Ministry headquarters and a Serbian army barracks. White House, Pentagon and CIA officials declined to comment on the report, which could not be independently confirmed.

* The Defense Department was reportedly reviewing a request from NATO commander Gen. Wesley K. Clark for 300 more aircraft to support the airstrikes. The Pentagon also served notice that it may call up reservists to help the air war. So far, only volunteer reservists from nine Air Force units, and a handful of others, have taken part.

* United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who has been largely sidelined in the crisis, wrote to Milosevic outlining conditions for a cessation of the bombing. But a U.N. spokesman said Milosevic had not responded.

* Defense Secretary William S. Cohen said there is no consensus in the United States, the Congress or NATO to deploy combat ground troops. "And there is no need, according to our commanding officers," he told reporters.

* Fierce fighting between Kosovo rebels and Yugoslav troops was reported on the Yugoslav side of the border with Albania, and the Yugoslav military reported killing at least 150 guerrillas. That claim could not be independently confirmed. The Albanian government said it will rely on NATO for protection if the fighting spills over.

* During a dinner with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, the foreign ministers of neighboring Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, Macedonia, Romania and Slovenia unanimously endorsed NATO's bombing campaign, according to a U.S. official who attended the session.

* Earlier in the day, Albright rejected a request from the rebel Kosovo Liberation Army for weapons. A U.S. official said Albright told a KLA representative that Washington was unwilling to break a U.N. embargo on supplying weapons to any element in Yugoslavia.

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