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Yugoslavia: Balkan Leaders Invited To NATO Summit Talks

  • Ben Partridge

London, 22 April 1999 (RFE/RL) -- NATO heads of state and government are to hold talks on the Kosovo crisis on Sunday with leaders of the neighboring states which have suffered serious economic and political dislocation because of the Balkans' conflict.

The talks in Washington will bring together representatives of Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania, Slovenia and the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia. The conference has been added at the last minute to the schedule of the long-planned 50th anniversary celebrations of the NATO alliance this weekend.

NATO officials have expressed concern over signs which they say could suggest that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, whose forces continue to drive Kosovar Albanians out of the province, may now be trying to destabilize the entire Balkans region.

A NATO military spokesman, Brigadier General Guiseppe Marani, told a news briefing in Brussels yesterday that some 200 Yugoslav army troops crossed from Kosovo into Albania on Tuesday, but later withdrew after a "confrontation" with Albanian forces. He said Serb forces fired artillery shells into Albania, reportedly in an area full of refugees.

Marani reported that Serbian forces, who have been pressing home an offensive against the remnants of the separatist Kosovo Liberation Army, fired artillery shells near the border with Montenegro, the smaller of the two republics in rump Yugoslavia.

The Italian air force general also said that some 250 to 300 Serb troops entered the UN demilitarized zone between Croatia and Montenegro. Croatia has expressed concern to the UN, which is conducting an investigation into the reported incursion.

NATO spokesman Jamie Shea addressed the incident regarding Montenegro during NATO's briefing yesterday:

"All of you have noted this incident, which the general referred to, of a number of soldiers setting up a checkpoint inside the Montenegrin border. Not in Croatia, but nevertheless in what is a demilitarized zone under the supervision of the UN, and Croatia has expressed its concerns to the UN, which is conducting an investigation."

The reports of a "spillover" of the Kosovo conflict came after another day of NATO air strikes against Serb military targets in the mainly ethnic Albanian province, and elsewhere in Serbia, and new reports about the worsening plight of the hundred of thousands of ethnic Albanians within Kosovo who have been driven from their homes. As the days wear on, there is mounting concern about shortages of food, medicines and shelter.

NATO leaders are expected to reiterate their determination not to allow the Kosovo conflict to further destabilize the Balkans when they meet with representatives of the seven "front line" countries in the special summit on Sunday.

The two worst affected countries, Albania and Macedonia, are already struggling to cope with an influx of hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanian refugees, while the Kosovo conflict has led to a serious disruption of trade throughout the region.

Shea said the alliance is particularly concerned about reports that the Yugoslav army in Montenegro is trying to bring under its control the police force that is loyal to the republic's President Milo Djukanovic. NATO leaders have repeatedly warned that any attempt to spread instability to the tiny republic -- which itself has divisions on ethnic lines -- will have "serious consequences."

Analysts say Macedonia is also vulnerable to instability, particularly as its sense of statehood is fragile, and because it includes a large ethnic Albanian minority which lives in compact masses right on the border of Kosovo and Albania itself.

The summit in Washington comes amid continuing NATO air strikes aimed at degrading the air defenses of the Yugoslav military, severing its communications, and destroying its fuel and ammunition dumps. The strikes are part of a drive to force Milosevic to withdraw his forces from Kosovo, and end what western politicians call the "ethnic cleansing" of Kosovo.

NATO hit Milosevic's party headquarters early yesterday morning and his residence in Belgrade this morning. Video footage shown on Serbian TV today showed Milosevic's home gutted but still standing. There was no apparent damage to nearby houses. Tanjug said Milosevic and his family were not inside the residence at the time of the attack. There was no word on other casualties. A NATO official confirmed the attack but called the building a "presidential command post."

Shea discussed NATO targeting yesterday when speaking about the bombing of Milosevic's party headquarters:

"Any aspect of the power structure is considered a legitimate target by NATO. The power structure. And, of course, in dictatorial societies, it becomes progressively impossible to distinguish between the party and the state, as we all know, they become conflated with each other. And this is also the party headquarters that contains the propaganda machinery, too, of the ruling Socialist Party, and that was enough for us to consider it a wholly legitimate target."

Shea said the extra aircraft contributed to the campaign by allied countries "are beginning to have an effect." He said the number of targets each night is now double the number that the NATO fliers were striking in the first two weeks of the air campaign.