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CRISIS IN YUGOSLAVIA

U.S. OKs Updating of Plans for Ground War

Balkans: As NATO leaders gather, they face the question of whether airstrikes alone can succeed. British press for eventual invasion. Up to 20,000 refugees headed to U.S.

April 22, 1999|NORMAN KEMPSTER and RICHARD C. PADDOCK | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

WASHINGTON — The U.S. government gave the green light Wednesday to renewed NATO planning for ground troops in Kosovo as British Prime Minister Tony Blair, emerging as the alliance's most outspoken hawk, pressed President Clinton to accept his plan for an eventual invasion against a weakened Yugoslav army.

With leaders of the 19 North Atlantic Treaty Organization nations converging on Washington for summit talks that begin Friday, a month into the allied bombing effort, the biggest question on the agenda will be whether NATO can prevail without putting infantry on the ground.

White House Press Secretary Joe Lockhart said Washington will support updating the NATO plan, which was put aside in October, for a ground war in Yugoslavia.

Although Lockhart said the administration is not yet ready to go beyond planning, British officials assert that the alliance must prepare to send ground troops once the bombing has damaged the Yugoslav army enough that it can no longer fight back.

"We would have no objection to updating the assessment that was done in October," Lockhart said. "It's looking at whether the problems that were evident when they looked at this in October have somehow changed, how we would address them, whether the situation would be more difficult, less difficult."

The October plan estimated that it would require 200,000 NATO ground troops to overrun Yugoslavia against fierce opposition. The scenario was so daunting that the plan was shelved. Clinton and leaders of other NATO countries said they would send troops only as peacekeepers and only into a "permissive environment," military jargon for a cease-fire approved by Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.

But on Wednesday, Britain said there are two ways to produce a permissive environment--an agreed cease-fire or by mauling the Yugoslav forces from the air so that effective resistance would be impossible.

British Defense Secretary George Robertson told the daily military briefing in London that although the alliance remains unwilling to stage a full-scale invasion against an opposing force, NATO-led peacekeeping troops must be sent in eventually, even if Milosevic opposes their presence.

"We are determined that an international military force will deploy in Kosovo once airstrikes have done their job so that the Kosovo people can return to their homes," Robertson said. "Milosevic will not have a veto."

Blair and Clinton held a war council Wednesday over dinner at the White House. Blair was the first of the NATO leaders to arrive for the summit that marks the 50th anniversary of the alliance.

In other developments:

* Vice President Al Gore announced that up to 20,000 Kosovo Albanian refugees will be temporarily but indefinitely resettled in the United States. The decision reverses an earlier decision to confine refugees at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, a destination most of the ethnic Albanians rejected. White House aides said details of the program are still being worked out, primarily by refugee specialists at the Department of Health and Human Services and the State Department.

Gore disclosed the plan in a speech at Ellis Island, N.Y., the 19th-century entry port for millions of European migrants, saying that the refugees would be paired with volunteer hosts and, when possible, relatives already in the United States.

* Warplanes pounded a Serbian refugee camp near Djakovica, Yugoslavia, where NATO aircraft mistakenly attacked columns of ethnic Albanian refugees last week. Four Serbs were killed in Wednesday's attack, survivors said. The aircraft involved were not immediately identified, although refugees and Yugoslav authorities blamed NATO. A spokesman for the alliance in Belgium said NATO aircraft were not operating in the area.

* Both the president and Hillary Rodham Clinton urged Americans to donate money to nongovernmental relief organizations that they said were working around the clock to help refugees in the Balkans. In a meeting with relief organization representatives, the first lady singled out a number of companies, including Pepsico Inc. and Bell Atlantic, that are matching the donations given by employees.

* During the first congressional hearing on the administration's request for $6 billion to finance the war, House Appropriations Committee Chairman C.W. Bill Young (R-Fla.) told Defense Secretary William S. Cohen that the panel probably will approve the bill early next week, clearing it for passage in the House a few days after that. Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Redlands), chairman of the defense appropriations subcommittee, and Rep. John P. Murtha of Pennsylvania, its senior Democrat, both indicated they hoped to add money for a military pay raise to the legislation. Cohen urged the lawmakers to pass the money bill by Memorial Day. He said the Pentagon already is using money earmarked for end-of-year training exercises to finance operations in Yugoslavia.

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