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Yugoslavia: NATO Says Air Campaign To Re-Intensify

  • Ben Partridge



London, 7 June 1999 (RFE/RL) -- British officials say the air campaign aimed at stopping Serbian "ethnic cleansing" in Kosovo will have to be re-intensified following the apparent breakdown of talks on the withdrawal of Serb forces from the province.

The comments came after talks between NATO and Yugoslav military officials in Macedonia broke up early this morning without agreement. The talks began on the weekend, aimed at reaching agreement on the technicalities of a withdrawal of all Serb forces from Kosovo.

British Defense Secretary George Robertson today accused Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic of "bad faith and procedural trickery" in failing to implement provisions of a peace deal agreed in Belgrade with EU and Russian envoys last week. Robertson, addressing a daily British Defense Ministry briefing in London, said that it is right to be cautious when predicting Milosevic's actions.

"I get no pleasure at all in saying that I was absolutely right to be cautious and to be skeptical about the willingness of Milosevic to stick to his word. The events of yesterday at the Macedonian border, and the prevarication of the Serb generals acting on Belgrade's instructions, show that although Milosevic has been defeated, he is going to use every trick in the book to escape the consequences. This border camp chicanery was clearly designed to undermine the principles agreed in Belgrade, to pick apart the agreement, and to avoid the signup obligation to take the Serbian troops out of Kosovo, and to let in the NATO peace implementation force."

Robertson said the 75-day NATO air campaign, which slackened in tempo after the news that Belgrade had accepted international conditions for a peace deal, will now again be stepped up.

NATO military officials say the Serb side failed to sign a military-technical pact on the pull-out of their 40,000-strong force, and presented new proposals incompatible with the agreement endorsed on Thursday by the Belgrade leadership.

British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said earlier that the military negotiations had stalled because of the Yugoslav sides insistence on maintaining up to 15,000 troops in Kosovo.

In addition, Belgrade is said to have demanded that a UN Security Council resolution in Kosovo be approved before the entry of NATO-led forces into the Serb province.

A Yugoslav Foreign Ministry spokesman, Nebojsa Vujovic, said today that Belgrade is still ready to continue talks, insisting that its negotiating envoys came to Macedonia "in good faith."

British officials said today that Serb forces in Kosovo are continuing to undertake military operations, and there are also reports that they have been shelling Albanian border areas.

British military spokesman General Charles Guthrie, speaking to the London briefing, said both incidents indicate that Serb forces on the ground have not responded to the peace accords agreed by Belgrade.

Guthrie said "The bombing campaign will be reintensified until such a time as the Serbs are prepared to implement the agreement fully and without ambiguity."

In the past 24 hours, NATO air strikes concentrated on Serb forces in Kosovo. Guthrie said alliance planes hit 21 artillery pieces, armored personnel carriers, mortars, and anti-aircraft positions. They also hit an ammunition store in Serbia, and a command-and-control facility in Pristina, Kosovo's capital.

Robertson said the alliance has tried to avoid intensifying the bombing campaign, but now has no alternative if it is to establish conditions for the return of the 800,000 Kosovar Albanians who have been driven or fled into Albania, Macedonia and elsewhere.

Robertson said there has been speculation that one reason for what he called Serb "prevarication" is a desire to "destroy the evidence of ethnic cleansing before the Serb troops depart."

Guthrie told the London briefing that even if Serb forces do withdraw from Kosovo, a daunting task remains for the international force, designated KFOR, which will move in to secure the return of refugees.

"KFOR is building up quickly. When that force moves into Kosovo to prepare the way for the eventual return of the Albanian refugees, they are going to face major challenges. We shall need to be satisfied that all Serb troops, paramilitaries, and police have left the province. The location of mines and other explosives must be identified, so that people may move about in safety. Roads and bridges need to be repaired, and the basic infrastructure of Kosovo restored as quickly as possible."

NATO spokesman Jamie Shea told a later briefing at NATO headquarters in Brussels that the alliance intends to exert "significant military pressure on Milosevic" to force him to move forward with a withdrawal of his forces.

He added that the Serb generals at the military talks claimed they were "empowered only to discuss certain aspects of the military-to-military agreement, and not others." Shea said: "They stalled on many other points of detail as well" and said "it was not clear that they were really interested in genuinely seeking an agreement."

NATO military spokesman General Walter Jertz told the briefing that Serb military operations continue inside Kosovo.

"There is no military agreement to withdraw, much less any movement of Serb forces out of Kosovo. The ground fighting continued in Kosovo, still heaviest in the West, along the Albanian-Kosovo border. Two main areas of conflict remain: in the Mount Pastrik vicinity, and to the north of Mount Pastrik, in the Junik area. The artillery firing into Albania continues in the Mount Pastrik area, and from positions near Junik... forcing Albanian people to leave their homes." Jertz said that alliance air crews flew 486 attack sorties in the 24 hours ending this morning, concentrating on striking at Serb military forces on the ground.

He stressed NATO's determination that the air campaign will not end until Serb forces begin a "verifiable and credible withdrawal from Kosovo." He added that NATO "can hit Serb targets harder and more often than [it has] done to date."

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