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Yugoslavia: Serb Forces Increase Kosovo Attacks Despite Air Strikes

Prague, 29 March 1999 (RFE/RL) -- After five nights of NATO bombing of Serb targets, Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic has not eased a crackdown in Serbia's Kosovo province. Indeed, Western leaders say that Serb armed forces and paramilitary have increased their attacks on the ethnic Albanian majority in the province.

British Defense Secretary George Robertson said in London Friday that the Yugoslav army has moved extra forces into Kosovo and increased attacks on ethnic Albanian villages in the province.

And at NATO headquarters in Brussels, British Air Commodore David Wilby told reporters that fighting continues in Kosovo's north and southwest:

"Serbian troops have been reported as conducting brutal and violent attacks on Kosovo Albanians and of kidnapping leading intellectuals. We have also learned of the release of some 300 hard line Serbian prisoners who've been added to the ranks of the paramilitary troops."

Meanwhile, Belgrade's official news agency Tanjug reported that ethnic Albanian separatists had attacked Serb police in Djakovica. The report could not be independently confirmed.

Military analysts say the reports of increased fighting do not necessarily mean that the NATO air strikes are failing in their mission to convince Milosevic to end the Kosovo offensive.

Ian Kemp is the news editor of Jane's Defense Weekly in London. He says it's still too early to judge how NATO's bombing raids have affected Serb military capability. But he says no one ever expected Milosevic to stop military operations in Kosovo this soon.

"Western intelligence believes that the objective of the Serb offensive that was launched on the 20th of March is to ethnically cleanse northern Kosovo and possibly central Kosovo. And it was always believed that one of the Serb reactions once the air campaign was launched would be to intensify the ethnic cleansing in the North knowing that eventually they would have to negotiate and that what they would prefer to do is ethnically cleanse the north so that when they do go back into negotiations if need be they could actually agree to a partition of Kosovo."

Kemp notes that so far, Serbian forces have done little to respond to NATO air attacks. He said the lack of response is a sign that the strength of Milosevic's forces was overstated by the media. But he adds that if Milosevic continues his offensive in Kosovo, NATO forces will likely increase the strength of their attacks.

"Certainly far more devastating strikes could be launched. And what they're trying to signal to Milosevic very clearly is that there is this potential. It could be far more devastating. And it's really in his interests to suspend the activities of his security forces."

News reports say NATO's supreme commander in Europe -- U.S. General Wesley Clark -- has a multi-phased plan of air operations against Yugoslavia. Phase One is meant to disrupt the Yugoslav army and police forces and make it safer for NATO to operate. Phase Two involves direct attacks on the tanks, artillery and troops that are carrying out the offensive against the separatist Kosovo Liberation Army. And Phase Three involves hitting similar installations across the country.

But Kemp says the fact that Serb troops are positioned so close to civilians may make it difficult for NATO to launch successful attacks.

"NATO is going to be very, very cautious about inflicting casualties upon Serbian civilians on the one hand but even more so upon the [ethnic] Albanian population. So with the Serb security forces dispersed throughout Kosovo actually in operation in some of these villages it's going to be very very difficult to destroy some of these individual targets and the Serbs will be aware of that and the Serbs will be doing everything they can to get in amongst the local population."

Ultimately, analysts say NATO air strikes will substantially weaken Serb forces. However, they say the big question is whether the current strategy will be enough to bring Milosevic back to peace negotiations. If it isn't, analysts say that the introduction of NATO ground troops may be necessary to end the violence in Kosovo. But that is something NATO member states say they have ruled out.