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Yugoslavia: Serbs Charged With Using Refugees As Shields


Belgrade, 13 April 1999 (RFE/RL) - Serb media say NATO warplanes and missiles attacked military and industrial sites early today in northern Serbia and Kosovo province. A top U.S. official says Serb military forces in Kosovo are using ethnic Albanian refugees to march alongside tanks and other armoured vehicles in an attempt to shield them from NATO air attacks. Australia's Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said today that two Australian aid workers captured in Yugoslavia will likely be charged with spying within the next two days. U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright meets Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov today in Oslo for talks on the Kosovo crisis. The meeting comes after NATO foreign ministers yesterday said they were eager to work with Russia to resolve the conflict. Petroleum refineries and fuel depots near Belgrade and north of the capital city once again were targets of the NATO air campaign last night. The official Yugoslav news agency Tanjug reports refineries in Pancevo, near the Yugoslav and Serbian capital Belgrade, and in the northern city of Novi Sad were again engulfed in flames as was a fuel depot near Sombor in northwest Serbia.

Reports said military and industrial sites in Kraljevo and Cacak, already damaged by attacks over the past few days, were hit by missiles overnight into early today. There were no early reports of casualties and the extent of damage. Reports said the Kosovo capital Pristina was hit with renewed air strikes.

Tanjug said Yugoslav anti-aircraft and missile defence batteries fired furiously into the night skies over the northern suburbs of Belgrade and near the city of Smederevo on the Danube River.

Early today on CNN, Brian Atwood, head of the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Clinton administration official in charge of helping refugees from Kosovo, charged the Serb military with using ethnic Albanian refugees as human shields.

He also said that U.S. satellites have photographic proof of almost 100 "fresh graves" around one particular town in the province. Atwood said Washington also had gathered "direct evidence" of forced marches of refugees, rapes and executions from dozens of Albanian refugees.

Vladislav Jovanovic, Yugoslavia's ambassador to the United Nations, appeared on the same CNN program and dismissed Atwood's allegations.

Meanwhile, CARE Australia aid workers Steve Pratt and Peter Wallace, who were detained nearly two weeks ago at Yugoslavia's border with Croatia shortly after the NATO air strikes began, may be charged with spying in the next two days.

On Sunday, Pratt admitted on Serb television that he had been a spy. But Australian Foreign Minister Downer charged the confession had been forced from the CARE worker by the Serbs. Downer called the charges against the two men "preposterous."

Australia's former prime minister Malcolm Fraser left last night aboard a flight to Russia, where he hoped to get help for the release of the two CARE workers.

In Oslo today, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright meets Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov for talks on the Kosovo crisis. The meeting comes after NATO foreign ministers yesterday said they were eager to work with Russia to resolve the conflict. They also blamed Yugoslavia for a "humanitarian catastrophe" in Kosovo. After the meeting in Brussels, Albright said NATO could share a Kosovo peace force mission through the UN or Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

French Defense Minister Alain Richard said the West could consider a force not under direct NATO leadership -- and with Russian participation -- as a "concession" to Yugoslavia.

NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana said the bombing campaign will continue until Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic gives in to all demands. U.S. President Bill Clinton warned Milosevic that the allies won't lose their resolve.

Meanwhile a NATO missile hit a passenger train crossing a bridge in southeast Serbia yesterday. Yugoslav officials said 10 people were killed. NATO expressed regret for any loss of civilian life. Fighting also continued yesterday between Serbia forces and Kosovo fighters near the Albanian border.

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