London, 2 October 1998 (RFE/RL) -- The United Nations Security Council has condemned the massacres of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo and called on Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to investigate, identify and punish those responsible.
The call coincided with warnings from the U.S. and Britain of possible NATO air strikes on Serbian targets to deter further attacks by Serbian security forces on the ethnic Albanian majority.
Diplomats, journalists and human rights activists have found evidence of several massacres of ethnic Albanians in recent days. They are among the worst atrocities in the seven-month conflict in Kosovo between Serbian forces and ethnic Albanian separatists.
Yugoslavia's Serbian leadership deny Serbian security forces were responsible and have offered to let foreign experts investigate. Vojislav Seselj, deputy prime minister of rump Yugoslavia, claimed yesterday that western nations staged the killings "to push through ... a NATO attack decision in the U.N. Security Council."
The Security Council, meeting in emergency session last night, expressed "considerable alarm" that fighting is continuing in Kosovo despite its demand last week for an immediate ceasefire.
But it did not assign blame to Serbian security forces for the new massacres after Russia and China, two of the "big five "permanent members, said they wanted more information on what happened.
The council called on the U.N. War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague to investigate possible violations of humanitarian law and asked U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan for an urgent report on the situation.
Britain, as present chairman, called the emergency council talks in response to international outrage at the killings at the weekend of some 30 ethnic Albanian civilians, many of them women and children, at two sites in Kosovo.
Serbian security forces have been trying to crush a separatist rebellion led by the ethnic Albanian Kosovo Liberation Army, which wants independence from Belgrade. Some 800 people have been killed and up to 300,000 people driven from their homes.
U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright declared yesterday that NATO "is now prepared to act militarily" against Serbian positions. She spoke after briefing nearly the entire U.S. Senate on the crisis. British Prime Minister Tony Blair also took a tough line:
"It is clear the diplomatic solution alone will not work and we have to send the strongest possible message to Milosevic that we will not tolerate any more of these atrocities. We will put together the best partnership we can amongst the other countries."
German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel said the massacres of ethnic Albanians were "the cold-blooded murder of civilians," adding that Milosevic should know he will not escape unpunished.
The Security Council has called on Kofi Annan to report on Monday as to whether Milosevic has complied with its resolution last week calling for an immediate ceasefire, the withdrawal of security units, and the opening of autonomy talks.
If the Security Council decides on Monday to approve military action, NATO ambassadors would likely meet in Brussels the next day to order the air strikes. But Russia and China flatly reject the use of outside force in Kosovo. As permanent council members, they could veto any new resolution authorizing military action.
In Moscow, a foreign ministry spokesman, Vladimir Rakhmanin, repeated Russia's objections to NATO action in Kosovo and said if air strikes go ahead, relations with the west will sharply deteriorate.
In Brussels, NATO envoys yesterday approved a rare "activation request," calling on its 16 member states to make available aircraft and personnel for use if a political "green light" is given. Along with U.S. and British planes, any attack force would likely include aircraft from Canada, Netherlands, Norway, Spain, and Germany.
British Defense Secretary George Robertson said today that time is running out, that "the clock is ticking for Milosevic." But he also told the BBC that NATO military action will not be "an easy task."
"This is not an easy task. This is likely, if it came about, to be an attack on a sovereign country, with difficult terrain, with fighting on the ground, with problems of refugees who would be in the way, and clearly up to now, perhaps no political process. But all of that has now come together. The warning is clear, the determination is absolute, and either he (Milosevic) complies with the will of the international community or we can do something about it."
NATO planners are reported to have drawn up a number of options, ranging from limited cruise missile strikes on Serbian military targets in Kosovo to strikes on air defenses elsewhere in Serbia.
Senior officials of the Contact Group -- Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, the U.S. -- charged with securing peace in the Balkans are meeting in London today to discuss the crisis.