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Yugoslavia: NATO Officials Report On Actions

  • Breffni O'Rourke



Prague, 9 April 1999 (RFE/RL) -- At a press conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels yesterday, alliance officials elaborated on the military situation.

Air Commodore David Wilby said air strikes had been continuing against the strategic infrastructure of Yugoslavia, and some 400 more missions had taken place on April 7 without loss of NATO aircraft.

He said NATO was continuing to systematically degrade the Yugoslav military, paramilitary and police forces. He said all targets hit were of military significance and NATO's concern for loss of civilian life and property damage remain "paramount." He noted the news reports from the Kosovar capital Pristina which spoke of heavy damage to the city. He denied that NATO was responsible for this damage, saying the alliance had selected its targets in and around the city with great care:

"NATO has certainly not caused the reported widespread and random damage, which we believe has been orchestrated by Serbian forces."

Wilby also said there is still some fighting between Serbian and rebel ethnic Albanian units of the Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK): "Despite Belgrade's declaration of a ceasefire, Serb forces continue to engage remaining UCK units and there is evidence that mop up operations are still being carried out in isolated areas. Yesterday we also detected some counter attacks mounted by the UCK."

Wilby said however, that the Serbian forces were mostly keeping out of sight in view of NATO's air activity.

Wilby was asked a question about whether NATO planned to strike at Yugoslav broadcasting facilities. He replied by criticizing Serb television as an instrument of propaganda which he said has filled the airwaves with lies. It is therefore a legitimate target in the present campaign, he said. However, he said that if President Milosevic would provide equal time for western news broadcasts in its programs, without censorship -- for instance for six hours a day -- then the television could become an "acceptable instrument" of public information.

In separate comments, NATO spokesman Jamie Shea said the alliance is on the verge of launching Operation Allied Harbor, which will provide military support to the international aid effort in Albania. He said the operation will involve the establishment of a mobile headquarters with a support force of about 8,000 troops.

Shea said it's hoped that the headquarters will be functioning by the end of next week. He said the troops are not intended for combat duties -- their role will be to assist the humanitarian effort.

Shea said NATO had established a helicopter supply route in Albania between Tirana and the Kosovar border. In Macedonia, alliance operations are continuing well, Shea said. He said the NATO enabling force has now established five refugee camps along Macedonia's border with Kosovo, holding presently 43,400 people. He said this means that a significant proportion of the refugee in Macedonia is being looked after by NATO. Alliance soldiers have so far distributed 87,000 food rations, as well as built latrines, and provided drinking water, and a field hospital.

Shea said that tomorrow, NATO Secretary General Javier Solana and NATO ambassadors will meet with Macedonian Foreign Minister Blagoye Hadzijski for a special "19 plus one" consultation on the situation in the region. Analysts view Macedonia itself as vulnerable to possible internal upheaval under the increasing stress of coping with a large refugee flow of ethnic Albanian refugees from Kosovo. Speaking after Shea at the same press conference, another NATO official, Commander Fabrizio Maltini, said NATO is not trying to create an independent humanitarian role for itself. He said the NATO role is to coordinate the flow of aid and to assist the humanitarian relief effort. He said the aim is to eventually replace this NATO role by civil administration.

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