PRISTINA, Yugoslavia — Serbia's influential Orthodox Church urged Slobodan Milosevic on Tuesday to resign as president of Yugoslavia, saying the country needs new leaders "acceptable at home and abroad" after its military defeat in Kosovo.
"Every sensible person has to realize that numerous internal problems and . . . the isolation of our country on the international scene cannot be solved or overcome with this kind of leadership," said a statement signed by the bishops of Serbia's dominant church.
"We demand that the federal president and his government resign in the interest and the salvation of the people so that new officials acceptable at home and abroad can take responsibility for the people and their future as a National Salvation government," it added.
The statement of the Holy Synod, the Orthodox Church's highest body, came as Yugoslav forces continued their withdrawal from Kosovo. In their wake, more than 10,000 ethnic Albanian refugees from Macedonia and Albania joined a homecoming rush into the province, ignoring warnings by aid workers and NATO to wait. Two returning refugees were killed by land mines Tuesday when they strayed off a highway to bypass NATO vehicles.
NATO-led peacekeepers moving into Kosovo, meanwhile, secured two more sites Tuesday where ethnic Albanians reportedly were massacred this spring during a wave of terror by Milosevic's forces that drove hundreds of thousands of Kosovars from the province.
Milosevic has been fighting for his political life since accepting the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's demands for ending its 78 days of bombing, including withdrawal of all Yugoslav troops, police and paramilitary forces over an 11-day period, the safe return of an estimated 1 million ethnic Albanian refugees and negotiations on a degree of political autonomy for Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority.
The withdrawal from Kosovo, a poor province of Yugoslavia's main republic, Serbia, is a severe blow to Serbian pride. Although ethnic Albanians made up about 90% of Kosovo's prewar population of 2 million, the province is Serbia's symbolic heartland, full of historical sites and some of the Orthodox Church's holiest shrines.
NATO's bombing devastated much of Serbia and deepened Yugoslavia's international isolation. Western leaders have set Milosevic's removal as a condition for sending reconstruction aid to any part of the republic except Kosovo.
On Monday, the hawkish Serbian Radical Party quit the president's three-party ruling coalition, wiping out its majority in the Yugoslav federal parliament. The Alliance for Change, comprising opposition parties and nongovernmental organizations, has called for Milosevic's resignation after 12 years of ruling first Serbia and then Yugoslavia.
Zoran Djindjic, head of the opposition Democratic Party, said Tuesday that the bishops could do far more than the political parties to rally a consensus for Milosevic's resignation. Kosovo's religious significance lends weight to the church's statement.
The Orthodox Church, one of Serbia's most respected institutions, supported and bolstered pro-democracy demonstrations more than two years ago that forced Milosevic to recognize opposition gains in local elections.
The reclusive Milosevic has reacted to the latest challenges from the church and opposition parties with two days of stump speeches. In Novi Sad on Monday and Aleksinac on Tuesday, he said it was important to correct the world's image of Yugoslavia, a federation that has lost four of its republics in three wars during his dominance.
In Aleksinac, he said he hoped that "our country never again experiences another war, that our country can be developed, happy and free." In Belgrade, the Yugoslav and Serbian capital, he promoted and decorated officers who led the Kosovo operation.
Milosevic and four top aides were indicted last month by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia on charges of ordering atrocities in Kosovo.
In other developments Tuesday:
* Lt. Col. Robin Clifford, a spokesman for the allied force, said he had "every indication" that Yugoslav forces had met their midnight Tuesday deadline for pulling out of southern Kosovo, including the provincial capital, Pristina, the first stage of their withdrawal. British NATO patrols reported no sign of Yugoslav forces in the city at that hour. Clifford said about 20,000 of the 40,000 Yugoslav security force personnel in Kosovo during the NATO air campaign had already left or were on the move.
* With NATO forces streaming into the province, Pentagon spokesman Kenneth H. Bacon in Washington said he expects U.S. forces to announce orders to begin returning aircraft to the U.S. "within a few days." The Pentagon, which has about 700 planes in the theater, will bring back heavy bombers first and leave a "fairly significant" force of fighter planes and support aircraft, Bacon said.