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NATO Orders Massive Assault on Yugoslavia After Talks Fail

CRISIS IN YUGOSLAVIA

Balkans: Allied attack expected to begin today with volleys of cruise missiles targeting Milosevic's air defenses, sources say. Defiant leaders in Belgrade tell their people to prepare for war.

March 24, 1999|JOHN-THOR DAHLBURG and DAVID HOLLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

BRUSSELS — NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana on Tuesday night ordered the awesome military might of the Western alliance unleashed against Yugoslavia after President Slobodan Milosevic spurned a final chance for compromise peace in the strife-torn region of Kosovo.

"We must halt the violence and bring an end to the humanitarian catastrophe now unfolding in Kosovo," Solana said. "We must stop an authoritarian regime from repressing its people in Europe at the end of the 20th century."

The United States and its allies accuse Milosevic of cynically reneging on commitments he made in October to halt military operations in Kosovo, a predominantly ethnic Albanian province of the Yugoslav republic of Serbia. In abortive negotiations that began last month in Rambouillet, France, and broke up last week in Paris, the Serbs also flatly refused a Western demand that they allow NATO troops into Kosovo to police a proposed peace deal.

Solana gave no details, but sources at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization earlier said airstrikes should begin after dark today with repeated volleys of satellite-guided Tomahawk cruise missiles launched from U.S. warships and B-52s. The missiles will be aimed at radar stations, ground-to-air missile batteries and other air defenses in Yugoslavia.

By Thursday night, the sources said, as many as 400 alliance combat and support aircraft will join in the attacks.

After Yugoslav air defenses are destroyed or neutralized, targets will shift to units, bases and facilities such as ammunition and fuel dumps belonging to the Yugoslav army and security forces, the sources said.

"We're not going to deliver a slow twisting of the arm. It's going to be a very hard and immediate twist," a high-ranking NATO official said.

U.N. humanitarian workers reported Tuesday that tensions had sharply increased in Kosovo's provincial capital, Pristina. It was market day, but the marketplace was practically empty, they said, because people feared congregating in public areas.

The aid workers said it was increasingly difficult for convoys carrying relief supplies to reach parts of Kosovo because of military operations. One U.N. convoy was stopped 11 times by police.

In Belgrade, the Yugoslav and Serbian capital, the Yugoslav government announced a "state of immediate threat of war" in a declaration read on state television by Milosevic's prime minister, Momir Bulatovic.

President Clinton, in a speech meant to persuade the American public of the vital importance of ending nearly 13 months of ethnically driven bloodshed and suffering in Kosovo in which more than 2,000 people have died, said Milosevic cannot be permitted to act as though he has a "license to kill."

Delving into Europe's recent and troubled past for a parallel, Clinton said that if the world had listened sooner to Winston Churchill's call to resist Adolf Hitler on the threshold of World War II, many fewer people--many fewer Americans--would have lost their lives.

The president delivered his speech to a friendly labor union convention and made the same argument in closed-door talks with leaders of the Senate and House.

On Capitol Hill, opposition to Clinton's Kosovo policy receded.

Although some lawmakers continued to express doubts about the administration's strategy, they said it was time for Congress to display a unified position in support of the crews of American warplanes.

In the Senate, lawmakers voted, 58 to 41, to support the NATO campaign.

Ramifications May Be Felt Beyond Balkans

However, the willingness of the U.S. and its allies to use force to quell the violence in Kosovo, a landlocked mountain territory about as large as Maryland, could have enormous consequences far beyond the Balkans. Bound for meetings with Vice President Al Gore in Washington, Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny M. Primakov ordered his aircraft turned around above the mid-Atlantic on Tuesday and returned to Moscow to protest NATO's readiness to attack a sovereign state--one with traditional ties to Russia.

"It [an airstrike against Yugoslavia] defies common sense and could destabilize the situation in the world," Primakov said during a refueling stop in Ireland. "We are categorically against this--categorically."

Diplomatic efforts to broker an end to the Kosovo conflict hit a dead end Tuesday afternoon when, after two days of "very intense" talks in Belgrade, special U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke said Milosevic showed no signs of willingness to agree to either of the Western alliance's key demands: a military cease-fire in the province and acceptance of a peace plan for the province that would include a 28,000-troop NATO-led peacekeeping force.

"The situation is the bleakest since we began this [Balkan peace] effort almost four years ago," Holbrooke said.

He then flew from Belgrade to Brussels, where he briefed Solana and the ambassadors of the 19 member nations of NATO.

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