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Yugoslavia: U.S. Congressmen Demand Crackdown On Belgrade

Washington, 26 March 1998 (RFE/RL) -- A group of U.S. congressmen who recently returned from the Balkans is demanding that Belgrade immediately pull out its special forces from the violence-torn Serbian province of Kosovo.

The demand was made by Congresswoman Sue Kelly (R-New York), Jim Moran (D-Virginia) and Eliot Engel (D-New York). They were denied visas to monitor elections in Kosovo last Sunday.

The three lawmakers said at a news conference Wednesday that international sanctions against the Belgrade regime should be tightened to put more pressure on President Slobodan Milosevic of Yugoslavia. They were among several members of Congress who wrote to U.S. President Bill Clinton asking for a meeting to discuss the Kosovo crisis after his return from a trip to Africa.

The legislators called for a "no-fly" zone over Kosovo to ground Serbian helicopter gun ships and other aircraft that can be used against ethnic Albanians.

In the letter to Clinton, the lawmakers noted that dozens of unarmed civilians have been killed and wounded in clashes between Serbian law enforcement authorities and ethnic Albanians.

They said: "We are alarmed that given their past behavior, the Serbs may be traveling once again down the ugly road of ethnic cleansing."

The lawmakers said humanitarian assistance is needed for 14 villages in a 104-square-kilometer triangle west of Kosovo's capital city Pristina, where they said "a humanitarian crisis is looming."

Moran said the international community should denounce what he called "Belgrade's continuing barbaric behavior that runs contrary to the norms of civilized society."

The three representatives also endorsed U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's call for stepped-up pressure against Belgrade.

Meeting in Bonn on Wednesday to discuss the situation in Kosovo, foreign ministers from the Contact Group of states decided to delay for one month any new economic sanctions against Belgrade.

But the ministers from Germany, France, Italy, Great Britain, Russia and the United States did agree to vote in the U.N. Security Council on the U.S.-led proposal to impose an arms embargo against Serbia.

They warned of additional punitive measures if Milosevic does not start an "unconditional dialogue" with ethnic Albanian leaders within four weeks.

In Washington, Congresswoman Kelly said she was "outraged by Belgrade's blatant attempt to seal off Kosovo prior to the Sunday elections."

Congressman Engel said at the press conference it is unprecedented that members of the U.S. Congress not be allowed to travel freely.

Barred from Kosovo, the U.S. delegation established an election watch center in Skopje, Macedonia, where it received hourly election reports from independent media across Kosovo.

Kosovo leader Ibrahim Rugovo was elected overwhelmingly in uncontested balloting. But Serbian authorities dismissed the elections as illegal on the grounds that Kosovo is not an independent republic and thus is not entitled to elect a president.