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Yugoslavia: NATO Officials Say All Options Under Review

  • Ben Partridge

London, 23 April 1999 (RFE/RL) -- A British military spokesman, asked about a NATO request to the Slovak government for permission to use its railway system, says anything that would help the alliance's military campaign against Yugoslav forces "clearly has to be considered."

Vice Admiral Ian Garnett told the daily news briefing yesterday in London on the Kosovo conflict: "I would imagine that this request falls into that category."

The reported request for the use of Slovak railways coincides with requests from the 19-nation alliance for permission to use Slovak, Romanian and Bulgarian air space, amid new speculation that ground troops could be sent into Kosovo even without the agreement of Belgrade.

U.S. President Bill Clinton had two hours of talks in Washington with British Prime Minister Tony Blair who said Wednesday that the difficulty of launching a land force invasion of Kosovo against what he called the "undegraded Serb military machine" is "formidable." But Blair said all options are being kept under "review."

The talks were held before this weekend's 50th anniversary summit in Washington of the NATO alliance to be attended by heads of state and government, foreign ministers and defense ministers. Several unscripted sessions on the Kosovo conflict, including talks with neighboring Balkans countries, have been added to the agenda.

The seven so-called "front-line" states affected by the Kosovo conflict are Albania, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Romania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia and Slovenia.

Italian Foreign Minister Lamberto Dini and French President Jacques Chirac were reported yesterday to have ruled out any extension of the air war aimed at stopping Serb military and police expulsions of hundreds of thousands of Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority.

Both Dini and Chirac were quoted yesterday as saying that the deployment of ground troops will not be on the agenda for the Washington summit. But pressure for the deployment of ground troops has built up in some alliance capitals amid evidence that the four-week NATO air campaign has failed to halt what many call the "ethnic cleansing" in Kosovo.

NATO is sticking to its position that NATO-led ground troops will be an essential part of an eventual peacekeeping force to allow the Kosovar refugees to return to their homes, but that their deployment must be preceded by a peace agreement with Belgrade.

Meanwhile, Serbian television reported yesterday that a home of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic had been bombed, but no one was there at the time.

British Armed Forces Minister Doug Henderson confirmed that the attack on the residence in Belgrade had taken place:

"The house was being used as a command and control facility, and therefore becomes part of the military machine, and is a military target."

He said despite continued bad weather yesterday NATO pilots continued their operations against a variety of targets in Serbia and Kosovo. But extensive low cloud and rain prevented British Tornado and Harrier planes from attacking their targets.

At the British Ministry of Defense briefing, Garnett offered little that was new, but "Our attacks against tactical units, such as tanks, artillery, and vehicles, have been less successful than against static targets. But the U.S. Apache helicopters in Albania will greatly help in this respect. Overall the campaign is proceeding steadily, and it is one of attrition. The weight of attacks is far greater now than it was in the first days of the campaign, and it will increase. If I were in the [Yugoslav army], I would be increasingly worried. We are in this for the long haul."

Garnett said since the air campaign began at the end of March, NATO attacks have damaged some 10 surface-to-air missile sites. He said the NATO air forces have attacked five major airfields, destroying hangars and support facilities. All evidence suggested the NATO strikes have destroyed at least seven MI29s, or some 50 percent of Milosevic's most capable fighters, 12 MIG21s, 10 slow-flying support aircraft, and nine military helicopters.

He said: "The Serb air force is still flying, but to a very small extent."

The British spokesman said that NATO attacks against Serb military supply routes represent an increasingly important element of the air campaign.

He said both major rail routes into Kosovo have been cut and two of the four major roads. Both railway lines across the Danube have also been severed. He said such attacks on roads, bridges and other supply routes will continue. Ammunition and fuel refineries and petrol, oil and lubricant stores also have been hit, causing severe fuel shortages.