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Yugoslavia: U.S. Fighter Down; NATO Widens Bombing Amid Fears Of Genocide


Prague, 28 March 1999 (RFE/RL) - A U.S. F-117 stealth fighter-bomber went down over Serbia last night as NATO aircraft pounded targets for the fourth night in Serbia and Kosovo. The pilot was rescued and is at a NATO base in Italy. The crash occurred hours after NATO Secretary General Javier Solana ordered broadening the air campaign to a wider range of targets, including Yugoslav army tanks, artillery and soldiers in Kosovo. German defence minister Rudolf Scharping said the new phase of bombing is intended to strike against the Yugoslav army, which is "carrying out systematic assassinations" against ethnic Albanians in Kosovo. He said a genocide has begun but must be prevented from happening. Refugees were reported streaming across the border into Albania. Germany and Britain today made new calls to Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to end the violence in Kosovo, while Pope John Paul said it was never too late to negotiate for peace.

Speaking in Berlin, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said the path to peace remains open. But he said Milosevic must realize that the policy of force against civilians is unacceptable. Fischer was speaking after meeting a U.S. congressional delegation.

In London, British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said Milosevic cannot win in the Kosovo conflict, because the Serb armed forces will not be able to sustain the mounting damage from NATO air strikes.

Britain also announced today it is sending four more Harrier jump jets to join eight already involved in the NATO force bombing Yugoslavia. Defence Secretary George Robertson said Britain is also sending eight other warplanes to join stepped up air operations in the Kosovo crisis.

Robertson said the other warplanes were eight Tornado GR1 bombers and a refuelling tanker. He said Britain had also agreed to a United States request to base more B-52 bombers, armed with cruise missiles, at British bases.

Dutch Foreign Minster Jozias van Aartsen said Russia has a pivotal role to play in the crisis, because Moscow knows it is in its own interests to have peace in the Balkans. Political leaders in a number of countries have urged Russia to use its influence on the Serbians to retrain their troops in Kosovo.

In Budapest today, a high-level Russian delegation met with U.S. special envoy Richard Holbrooke to discuss the Kosovo crisis. The group also met Hungarian Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi.

The Russian delegation, led by former reformist prime minister Yego Gaidar and former deputy prime ministers Boris Nemtsov and Boris Fyodorov, wants to travel to Belgrade to meet President Milosevic, but must obtain visas first. They say their trip has been blessed by the Russian Foreign Minister and President Boris Yeltsin.

After meeting with Holbrooke -- who is in Budapest on a private visit -- Gaidar said there is a "serious danger" the Cold War could re-emerge if the NATO bombing continues. Holbrooke told reporters that the American position on NATO bombings in Yugoslavia has not changed.

In Albania, Information Minister Musa Ulqini was quoted by the French AFP news agency as saying that about 50,000 Kosovo Albanians are gathering along the border with Albania, expecting to cross the border into neighboring Albania. Yesterday, some 20,000 refugees poured into Albania. They said they were fleeing for their lives. Albanian Prime Minister Pandeli Majko has called for international aid to avoid a humanitarian tragedy.

Speaking in Brussels, NATO spokesman Jamie Shea said last night's escalation order means NATO forces will start directly targeting Yugoslav army tanks, artillery and soldiers in Kosovo. NATO officials say they are extremely concerned by accounts that Yugoslav forces have launched an all-out offensive against ethnic Albanians in the Serbian province, reportedly burning villages, killing men and driving out women and children.

President Milosevic denies all charges of ethnic cleansing and accuses NATO of blatant aggression.

In Washington, President Bill Clinton said the continued brutality and repression of the Serb forces underscores the need for NATO forces to persevere. He said the NATO operation will go forward as planned.

Clinton said that he strongly supports the decision of NATO Secretary General Solana to move to an expanded phase of the air campaign.
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