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Yugoslavia: Analyst Says Belgrade Too Weak To Retaliate For NATO Airstrikes

Prague, 12 October 1998 (RFE/RL) -- A top defense analyst (Oct. 9) discounted Serbian threats to hit back at NATO if it carries out airstrikes in Kosovo. Western countries have said NATO strikes may be launched if Belgrade refuses to comply with UN demands it pull forces out of the southern Serbian province.

Paul Beaver with Britain's Jane's group of magazines, which monitors defense issues, told RFE/RL by telephone from London it is unlikely Serbian forces have the capability to carry out threats from Serbia's Deputy Prime Minister Vojislav Seselj. Seselj warned yesterday (Oct. 8) of retaliation against NATO or countries in the region that aid the alliance.

"The Yugoslav armed forces are considerably weakened after the wars in (former) Yugoslavia. In my view it is unlikely that they will have the capability of striking out at NATO, with the possible exception of Italy. There are some old cruise missiles and ballistic missiles which they do have available (but) the most likely reaction would be some form of terrorism or some reaction against NATO forces currently in Bosnia."

Seselj said yesterday that, in his words, "NATO soldiers may possibly enter our country as combatants but they will leave it in coffins." The Serbian hardline nationalist also warned other countries in the region not to provide any help to NATO or, he said, they would also be considered Serbia's enemy and "would have to face the consequences."

Beaver said that if NATO conducts airstrikes, the most likely pattern would be a series of actions interspersed with what he called pauses to give Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic time to reconsider his policies.

"The normal doctrine for coercive airstrikes is for there to be a strike and then a pause for reflection, a pause for diplomatic action, if that fails another strike, then to go through it again, and this is what you would expect to happen ...(that is,) a gradually increasing capability, but the primary aim of airstrikes will be to neutralize the air defense systems in Serbia so there is no risk to any further (NATO) operations."

The defense analyst also predicted that if airstrikes succeed in ending hostilities in Kosovo, international ground forces would be deployed in the province to keep the peace.

"If we have a peace on the ground, and we have Serbian heavy weapons back in their barracks, we have the (Kosovo Liberation Army or UCK) stopping their military action, there's going to be a need for a peacekeeping force. That peacekeeping force is going to be, in my view, an international one made up of the Contact Group countries --(four countries from) the European Union, the United States and Russia-- and we are going to see a force not dissimilar to that already in Bosnia."

The Contact Group comprises Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, and the United States.

U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke returned to Belgrade for new talks with Milosevic today, giving the Yugoslav president another warning to comply with international demands on Kosovo or face NATO airstrikes.

Holbrooke told reporters that NATO is intensifying planning and preparations for action and, in his words, "we are continuing and intensifying diplomatic efforts to see if that is going to be necessary or not." Earlier this week, the U.S. envoy held three rounds of unsuccessful talks with Milosevic.

U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said today (Oct. 9) she thinks NATO will agree in the next few days on what she called an activation order that would authorize an attack. Also on Friday, NATO ambassadors met in Brussels with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak at Alliance headquarters to discuss his country's opposition to military action against Yugoslavia.

Meanwhile in Kosovo, the Albanian-language daily Koha Ditore carried a UCK statement declaring a unilateral cease-fire effective today.

Hundreds of people have been killed and an estimated 250,000 people have been driven from their homes since Milosevic launched a crackdown in late February against the ethnic Albanian UCK, which is fighting for independence from Belgrade.

(Paul Beaver was interviewed by Vesna Roller of the South Slav. Svc.)