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Yugoslavia: Trial Begins Today For Captured Soliders; Russian Ship Heads For Adriatic


Belgrade, 2 April 1999 (RFE/RL) - NATO's around-the-clock bombing campaign continues today as three U.S. soldiers captured by Yugoslav forces face trial on unknown charges in a military court. The soldiers were taken prisoner Wednesday while on patrol in Macedonia near the Serb border. A Russian intelligence-gathering ship left the Black Sea port of Sevastopol today for the Adriatic, where it is to monitor the situation in Yugoslavia. The Russian ambassador to the United Nations Sergei Lavrov says the ship will help Russians follow events more closely and enable Russians and Serbs to exchange information. Refugees continue to flow out of Kosovo to neighboring countries as Serbs increase the systematic expulsion of ethnic Albanians. The U.S. State Department said yesterday the number of refugees who've fled or who have been forced to flee Kosovo since NATO air strikes began has reached 120,000.

Other agencies and organizations cite higher figures. An official with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees told AP, however, that no one knows how to count the refugees anymore.

The State Department said at least 14,500 Kosovars arrived in Albania yesterday. Reports spoke of thousands of refugees who'd been crammed into trains leaving the country by Serb security forces.

Another 14,500 Kosovar Albanians fled to neighboring Macedonia. A Macedonian official says thousands more are backed up at the border. The official said entry into the country is being slowed to prevent the smuggling of arms and ammunition. The State Department said 7,000 Kosovars fled to Montenegro, part of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

The European Union and eight southeastern European countries have agreed to establish a regular airlift operation to bring food, medicine and other humanitarian supplies to refugees fleeing Kosovo.

The development was announced after a meeting in Bonn yesterday between foreign ministry officials from the EU, Hungary and seven Balkans states -- Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Albania, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Romania and Slovenia.

German Foreign Minister Joschko Fischer said the operation will focus on bringing supplies to Albania and Macedonia. Fischer also has called for a special EU ministerial meeting on aid for Kosovo refugees. He said the meeting should take place as soon as possible after Easter.

Poland's foreign minister Bronislaw Geremek said yesterday that Poland would accept about 1,000 refugees from Kosovo. Geremek expressed Poland's support for NATO's attacks on Yugoslavia and said Warsaw believes it is its duty to help the ethic Albanian refugees. He also said the NATO air strikes are the most effective way of putting a stop to Serbia's ethnic purges in Kosovo.

Concerning today's trial of three U.S. soldiers, Belgrade says the three were detained on Serb territory and are illegal invaders. The U.S. says the men were in Macedonia when they were apprehended, making their capture illegal. The U.S. Defense Department said yesterday the men should be considered prisoners of war and not subject to a trial.

President Bill Clinton says he holds Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic personally responsible for the men's safety. The men were shown yesterday unhurt on Serb television.

The Russian intelligence-gathering ship, the "Liman" is the first of a number of war ships Russia has said it will send to the Adriatic amid NATO's air raids on Yugoslavia. Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev has said the mission is needed to safeguard Russian national interests. Moscow is vehemently opposed to NATO's military campaign in Yugoslavia.

U.S. officials say they are concerned over the deployment of Russian ships in the Adriatic, which Washington says may send the wrong signal to Belgrade. Turkey -- which agreed to the passage of the ships through the strategic Bosphorus Strait -- has also said it fears the deployment could raise tensions.

The U.S. announced last night that it is sending additional high-technology jet fighters to Europe. Defense Department spokesman Kenneth Bacon told a news conference in Washington that another 12 F-117 stealth fighter jets are to be dispatched. The planes are designed to avoid radar detection.

Western nations challenged Yugoslavia yesterday to let Kosovo's leading Albanian moderate politician travel to western Europe to express his opinion about the Kosovo crisis. The move came in response to a report on Yugoslav state television today about a meeting between Ibrahim Rugova and President Milosevic, which the West viewed as orchestrated by Milosevic.

Yesterday, some 10,000 people demonstrated in Paris against NATO air strikes on Yugoslavia and so-called ethnic cleansing by Yugoslav forces in Kosovo. Trade unionists and left-wingers led the protest, which also included hundreds of Serb emigres.

In Bern, some 5,000 ethnic Albanians from Kosovo residing in Switzerland demonstrated peacefully calling for NATO ground troops to be deployed in Kosovo.

In Patras in western Greece some 4,000 people including Serbian students at the local university demonstrated against the NATO air strikes. A Greek student was arrested last night for throwing a fire bomb at the U.S. consulate in Salonika.

In Prague, some 300 Czechs and Serbs resident in the Czech Republic demonstrated against the strikes. The Czech Republic, which together with Poland and Hungary joined NATO last month, is not participating directly in the raids on Yugoslavia.

Meanwhile, efforts are continuing by religious leaders to have the bombing halted for the Easter holidays. Eight U.S. Catholic cardinals, in letters to Clinton and Milosevic, urged a cessation of hostilities. The Easter holidays begin today with Good Friday. The Orthodox church, to which most Serbs belong, celebrates Easter a week later.

Pope John Paul has written to U.S. President Bill Clinton, Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana asking for an Easter truce lasting through April 11.

NATO has ruled out any Easter pause.
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