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Yugoslavia: Milosevic Defiant Over Kosovo; Clinton Calls Yeltsin

Belgrade/Washington/Moscow; 24 March 1999 (RFE/RL) - Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic is remaining defiant in the face of what appear to be imminent NATO air strikes against his country over Kosovo. In a nationwide television address today, Milosevic said his government is right to reject foreign peacekeeping troops in Kosovo. He urged the Yugoslav people to defend the country "with all means." Milosevic spoke as NATO air and sea forces position themselves to attack Yugoslav targets. NATO officials say air strikes will begin no later than tonight. At a summit in Berlin today, European Union leaders issued a joint statement saying Milosevic can still avert air strikes if he agrees to sign a Western-backed plan that would give Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority self-rule.

EU leaders blamed the crisis on what they called the "irresponsible Yugoslav leadership."

In Washington, U.S. President Bill Clinton telephoned Russian President Boris Yeltsin today to tell him that disagreements over Kosovo must not harm relations. A Kremlin spokesman said Yeltsin told Clinton that Russia will not use military threats to prevent NATO from launching strikes against Serbia.

But in a separate television address, Yeltsin appealed to world leaders to stop Clinton from making what Yeltsin called the "terrifying and tragic" mistake of launching air strikes against Serbia. Yeltsin said NATO strikes against Serbia would lead to "a war in Europe, if not worse."

Yeltsin said he was in favor of continuing political discussions with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, however difficult these discussions may be.