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Yugoslavia: NATO Condemns Killing Of 45 Ethnic Albanians


Brussels/Racak, 18 January 1999 (RFE/RL) - NATO is sending its two top generals to Belgrade today to hold crisis talks with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic following last week's alleged massacre in Kosovo. NATO ambassadors held an emergency meeting in Brussels last night to discuss a response to the killings on Friday of at least 45 ethnic Albanians in the Kosovar village of Racak. Serb forces are being blamed. The United Nations Security Council will hold a special session today to discuss the crisis in Kosovo.

NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana issued a statement late last night condemning the alleged massacre as "a flagrant violation of international law." The statement said NATO is still prepared to intervene militarily if necessary. Officials say Solana has also been staying in close touch with Moscow as the situation in Kosovo worsens.

The threat of NATO air strikes was suspended in late October after Milosevic agreed to reduce troop levels in Kosovo and refrain from military actions against civilians. Fighting escalated in December after a short truce.

U.S. General Wesley Clark -- NATO's supreme commander for Europe -- and German General Klaus Naumann -- the chairman of the alliance's military committee -- are expected to travel to Belgrade as early as today. Solana said the generals will impress upon Milosevic the "gravity of the situation" and urge him to comply with his previous commitments to NATO.

Serb forces in Kosovo explained the killings by saying they came under attack while investigating the murder of a policeman. Serb authorities in Pristina said several dozen members of the Kosovo Liberation Army in uniform had been killed near Racak.

Meanwhile, reports from Kosovo say Serbian police called in army reinforcements yesterday as fresh fighting broke out with ethnic Albanian fighters near the site of the massacre in Racak.

In New York, the United Nations Security Council will hold a special session today to discuss the crisis in Kosovo.

The council meeting was requested by Albania following the discovery over the weekend of the bodies. The U.N. session is due to begin at 1930 Central European Time.

Albania's U.N. ambassador Agim Nesho said the killings -- which he called an "act of barbarism" -- constitute a flagrant violation of Security Council resolutions.

The Security Council will meet today even though it has been designated a holiday to mark the Muslim festival of Eid al-Fitr, signalling the end of the fasting month of Ramadan.

In Washington, the U.S. welcomed the NATO statement condemning the killings.

James Rubin -- the spokesman for Secretary of State Madeleine Albright -- says Albright is pleased with the statement's "strong message." Rubin said the U.S. hopes Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic understands the "seriousness and gravity" of the NATO message. The statement reminds Belgrade that activation orders for air strikes remain in effect.

Senior U.S. foreign policy and defense officials were called to the White House for a meeting last night to discuss an appropriate American response to the crisis.

U.S. President Bill Clinton has blamed Serbian forces for the killings in Racak. The bodies -- most of which appeared to be shot at close range -- were discovered on Saturday. William Walker -- the head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's mission in Kosovo -- said the killings resembled an "execution."
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