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Yugoslavia: Kosovo Massacres Prompt Action By UN, Threats By NATO

London, 1 October 1998 (RFE/RL) -- The U.N. Security Council is to hold an emergency meeting today to discuss reports of massacres of ethnic Albanian civilians by Serbian security forces in Kosovo.

British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said his country called the meeting to condemn what he called these "atrocities." Speaking yesterday, he also said that "NATO is now ready to act" -- a reference to possible air strikes against Serbian military installations in Kosovo.

The Security Council talks coincide with mounting international concern about the weekend killings of men, women and children attempting to flee Serb assaults on villages in central Kosovo.

Cook, whose country takes over the Security Council presidency today, said: "This was not an act of war. It was plain cold murder." He also had a warning for Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic:

"NATO is now ready to act. President Milosevic will be making a big mistake if he did not recognize the revulsion across Europe at this latest atrocity."

Cook also called on the International War Crimes Tribunal in the Hague to investigate the killings. Serb security forces have been accused of killing 16 ethnic Albanians in the central Kosovo village of Gornje Obrinje at the weekend. Amnesty International says 10 of the dead were women and children. Evidence is emerging of another reported massacre of 14 civilians in another part of Kosovo after a young villager said he was the sole survivor. Serbian officials have denied that Serb forces were responsible for either incident.

The White House said the reported killings "underscore the ugliness and brutality of the Serb presence in Kosovo." U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan said he was "outraged" by the reports.

The Yugoslav state news agency, Tanjug, said there was no evidence Serbs were involved in atrocities and accused the western press of trying to justify a NATO military intervention in the conflict.

If the allegations are true, the two massacres would be among the worst atrocities reported in the Serb crackdown on a seven-month ethnic Albanian insurgency against rule from Belgrade. The separatist demands of the Kosovo Liberation Army triggered a Serbian military offensive that has left an estimated 800 dead and driven 300,000 refugees from their homes.

Today's session of the Security Council is expected to call for a report from Annan by early next week on whether Belgrade has complied with last week's resolution demanding a ceasefire, a pull-out of troops and "serious dialogue on real autonomy for Kosovo."

Cook said yesterday he had conferred by telephone with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and EU foreign ministers. He said: "military action will flow from a political decision."

NATO officials in Brussels said aircraft and cruise missiles have been formally committed by NATO members for possible air strikes against Serbian forces in Kosovo. But they indicated the alliance is unlikely to make any decision until after Annan presents his report.

Supporting the threat of military action, the German government has offered to make available 14 Tornado fighter bombers.

One correspondent in Kosovo (Financial Times) reports that convoys of trucks and buses withdrawing hundreds of Serbian police from the Drenica region suggest the Belgrade government is winding down its offensive against the ethnic Albanian separatists, although heavy gunfire was heard in one area. The U.N contact group on former Yugoslavia is to meet in London tomorrow (Oct. 2) to formulate its response to the crisis.