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Yugoslavia: 'Systematic' Ethnic Cleansing Underway In Kosovo


Brussels, 29 March 1999 (RFE/RL) - NATO spokesman Jamie Shea said today the alliance has reliable information that Yugoslav forces are systematically burning villages and abitrarily killing ethnic Albanians in Kosovo. Shea said Serb forces, acting under direct orders from Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, are also separating men of fighting age from their families and taking them away. As many as half a million ethnic Albanians are on the move in Kosovo -- Europe is faced with its worst humanitarian disaster since the closing days of World War II. In the last 35 hours, more than 60,000 refugees have arrived in Albania, more than 10,000 in Montenegro and thousands more have crossed into Macedonia.

U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has accused Milosevic of personally ordering massacres against ethnic Albanian civilians. Senior government officials in France, Germany and Britain also are repeating the allegations, saying that the Yugoslav government is enacting policies of genocide. NATO's Shea said all evidence of war crimes gathered by the alliance will be sent to the International Tribunal at The Hague.

In Moscow, the Kremlin said Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov will travel to Yugoslavia tomorrow in an effort to negotiate a settlement. So far, the Kremlin has demanded that NATO first stop its air strikes before it asks Belgrade to halt the Serb offensive in Kosovo.

There are estimates that as many as a half a million ethnic Albanians are now on the move in Kosovo. Many refugees arriving in neighboring countries in the past two days say they were forced to flee at gunpoint. They also tell of summary executions and massacres. They say entire villages have been burned.

Such stories have been difficult to confirm because international monitors have left Kosovo and because Belgrade has ordered most foreign journalists out of Yugoslavia. But international aid agencies say Europe is now faced with its worst humanitarian disaster since the closing days of World War II.

In the last 35 hours, more than 60,000 refugees have arrived in Albania and more than 10,000 in Montenegro. But reports say Yugoslav border guards today closed the main border crossing to Albania. Thousands more refugees are trying to cross into Macedonia. Local officials there are asking for international aid to cope with the crisis.

U.S. President Bill Clinton said the reports of massacres have emboldened NATO to start targeting individual Yugoslav army tanks, artillery and military units. But low altitude clouds are making such pinpoint bombing difficult. Low altitude clouds are covering much of Kosovo and could remain over the region for the next three days. France says it cancelled four bombing missions today because of bad weather.
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