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Crisis in Yugoslavia

NATO Leaders Agree to Expand Role of Alliance

Summit: Declaration allows use of military force to prevent human rights abuses anywhere in Europe. It also endorses Kosovo campaign, in which allies acted beyond borders of member states.

April 25, 1999|NORMAN KEMPSTER and TYLER MARSHALL | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

WASHINGTON — Half a century after the alliance was created as a bulwark against Soviet aggression, the leaders of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization put down a new marker Saturday, agreeing that it can use military force to prevent the abuse of human rights anywhere in Europe.

"We are moving into a system of international relations in which human rights, rights to minorities every day, are much more important, and more important even than sovereignty," NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana told a news conference here during a weekend of meetings and ceremonies commemorating the 50th anniversary.

As the allies continued their air assault on Yugoslavia for a 32nd day, President Clinton said that NATO's new strategic concept "specifically endorses the action we are taking in Kosovo"--the bloodied Balkan region where the forces of Yugoslavia and its dominant republic, Serbia, have carried out "ethnic cleansing" brutal enough to drive hundreds of thousands of people from their homes.

The presidents and prime ministers of NATO's 19 member nations said the use of military force is justified to prevent regional conflicts and instability that could spill over into their territory. At the time of its creation, NATO authorized military action only to turn back an attack on any of its member states. Officials conceded that more conflicts like the one over Kosovo are likely.

In related developments Saturday:

* NATO's unabated bombing runs on Yugoslavia caused heavy damage southeast and southwest of the Serbian and Yugoslav capital, Belgrade, according to the official Tanjug news agency. Four missiles hit the eastern industrial area of Nis early today, the news agency said. The "violent detonations" caused "great damage," it said, without mentioning any casualties.

* Earlier, thousands of Belgrade residents rallied near the bomb-shattered headquarters of Serbian TV, protesting a NATO attack early Friday that authorities said killed 15 people and injured 30. State-run television went off the air shortly after airstrikes resumed Saturday night, but it was unclear if it was because transmitters were damaged or broadcasts were suspended, Associated Press reported.

* In Washington, British Prime Minister Tony Blair's spokesman, Alastair Campbell, said that Yugoslav Prime Minister Slobodan Milosevic has placed at least 10 fired Yugoslav generals under house arrest.

* More than 2,200 refugees crossed into Macedonia complaining of extremely difficult living conditions in Kosovo, according to an official of the U.N. refugee agency. Many of the refugees had been on the run for weeks or months, moving from village to village or sleeping in the woods, in fear of Serbian security forces. Many of the newly arrived refugees reported that they had tried to leave Kosovo several times in recent weeks but were prevented from doing so.

* The head of the International Committee of the Red Cross arrived in Belgrade to appeal for access to three captured U.S. servicemen and the return of his organization to Kosovo. Cornelio Sommaruga was expected to meet with Milosevic on Monday. Clinton pointed out in Washington that Milosevic has denied the soldiers Red Cross visits while telling American television audiences he would permit them.

* Canadian Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy said he hopes to visit Moscow this week to discuss Russian peace envoy Viktor S. Chernomyrdin's six-point plan to end the conflict. Chernomyrdin said in Moscow that he has received invitations from Germany and other NATO countries to discuss the plan. U.S. officials say the Russian effort is a welcome initiative but that, so far, Milosevic has not met NATO conditions for ending the bombing.

In the often opaque language of the declaration that NATO reached Saturday, the allies said: "Ethnic and religious rivalries, territorial disputes, inadequate or failed efforts at reform, the abuse of human rights . . . can lead to local and even regional instability."

Solana, who shepherded the declaration through the summit and NATO's cumbersome bureaucracy, was jubilant. He said the action "marks the transition from an alliance that was concerned mainly with collective defense to one which will be a guarantee of security in Europe and an upholder of democratic values both within and beyond our borders."

The leaders assembled at the summit said that NATO will take military action to combat genocide and other serious abuses of human rights "on a case-by-case basis," and only if all 19 members agree on a course of action. The procedure could mean that the alliance will pass on some human rights crises, but it clearly could intervene in others.

The strategic declaration and a communique that referred to it were issued more than six hours after the summit talks ended because of disagreements over the final wording. The presidents and prime ministers approved the measure in principle but left it to aides to hammer out the language.

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