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CRISIS IN YUGOSLAVIA

Peace Organizations Set to Take On Clinton

May 21, 1999|NORMAN KEMPSTER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — Eighteen peace groups, many of them allies of the young Bill Clinton in the antiwar movement three decades ago, announced Thursday a coordinated campaign to pressure the president into ending the bombing of Yugoslavia.

The organizations--including such long-established groups as the American Friends Service Committee and the Roman Catholic Pax Christi--vowed to follow Clinton around the country with noisy demonstrations, a tactic that was used with devastating impact against President Lyndon B. Johnson in the 1960s during the Vietnam War.

"We demand an end to the NATO bombing, and we will act on those demands until they are met," Gordon Clark, executive director of Peace Action, the nation's largest grass-roots antiwar organization, told a Washington news conference. "This is a wide and broad coalition of peace and religious groups."

The groups also called for "an end to ethnically targeted violence" and for deployment of an international peacekeeping force in Kosovo, demands aimed at Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and his military. Participants said they had no magic formula to induce Milosevic to stop "ethnic cleansing" of Kosovo Albanians and accept peacekeepers in the province, but they insisted that the bombing campaign has failed to protect civilians targeted by Yugoslav troops.

"We can't force Slobodan Milosevic to do anything, but it seems to us that if [nearly] 60 days of bombing and civilian casualties did not force him to act, it is time to try something else," Clark said.

Although there have been a few scattered protests since the NATO bombing campaign began March 24, Thursday's news conference marked the opening of an organized national effort.

Asked in an interview later Thursday why it had taken so long for groups with well-developed pacifist ideologies to react to the bombing, Clark said some peace organizations were concerned about alleged Yugoslav atrocities in Kosovo that "made some of us think twice about what to do."

Besides, he said, the Clinton administration has used force so often that "the peace movement is stretched thinner by President Clinton than we were even during the Reagan years."

The coalition plans to hold demonstrations Saturday in Washington and several other cities, including Sacramento, leading up to a rally in the nation's capital June 5 that organizers hope will draw thousands of protesters. Other demonstrations are planned for June 12, when Clinton gives a commencement address at the University of Chicago, and June 18, when Secretary of State Madeleine Albright delivers a graduation speech at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill.

Opinion polls continue to show widespread support in the United States for Clinton's stated aims of ending "ethnic cleansing" in Kosovo, a province of Yugoslavia's dominant republic, Serbia, and allowing hundreds of thousands of refugees to return home under the protection of an international force that includes North Atlantic Treaty Organization troops. Some polls, such as one issued this week by the Program on International Policy Attitudes, indicate that Americans would support stronger measures--including a ground invasion of the province--if that is needed to stop the purge of Kosovo Albanians.

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