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Yugoslavia: NATO Overnight Strikes 'Intense'; Clinton Speaks To Serbs

Brussels, 26 March 1999 (RFE/RL) - NATO officials say a second night of air strikes against military targets in Yugoslavia was as intense as the first night's assault. But the alliance is rejecting reports that bombardments were significantly increased overnight. U.S. National Security Advisor Samuel Berger said last night's strikes were launched as a Serb ground offensive continued in Kosovo. NATO's Supreme Allied Commander, Wesley Clark, says the alliance will systematically destroy Yugoslavia's military forces unless Milosevic halts the offensive and takes steps toward signing a western-backed autonomy accord for Kosovo.

The government in Belgrade has evicted most Western journalists from Yugoslavia and has closed down independent local media. British Defense Secretary George Robertson said that move is a sign of panic and insecurity in Belgrade. State-controlled media reported explosions overnight near Belgrade. Reports from Kosovo say army barracks at Prizren and Urosovac were hit and that numerous explosions were heard near Pristina and Kosovska Mitrovica.

Associated Press said two missiles struck near the central Serbian city of Nis, but correspondents were unable to see what was hit. Serbian state television also reported that three missiles hit a police station on a military base. The airport at the Montenegran capital of Podgorica also was targeted for a second night.

U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen denied reports by Yugoslavia's Tanjug news agency that at least two NATO planes had been shot down. Cohen said all allied aircraft returned safely to their bases.

At the UN Security Council, Russia has introduced a resolution calling for an immediate halt to the strikes. Russia has strongly condemned NATO's air strikes against Yugoslavia, which NATO nations launched in response to the Serb crackdown on the ethnic Albanian majority in Serbia's Kosovo province. Moscow has recalled its representative to NATO's headquarters and has called for an emergency session of the UN security council to discuss the strikes.

In Moscow today, Russian President Boris Yeltsin arrived in the Kremlin for talks with Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and senior officials to discuss the Kremlin's next moves.

Belgrade said it is breaking off diplomatic relations with the United States, France, Germany and Britain. There were violent protests against the air strikes at western embassies and representative offices in Macedonia, Bosnia, Moscow and Canada.

Meanwhile, Montenegrin Deputy Prime Minister Dragisa Burzan said today that the government in Podgorica will not participate or interfere in the conflict between Belgrade and NATO.

Speaking in an interview on CNN, Burzan said Montenegro rejects the state of war declared by Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. Consequently, Burzan said, Montenegro "does not consider itself at war with anyone."

Although Montenegro is Serbia's junior partner in the Yugoslav Federation, the republic's President Milo Djukanovic opposes Milosevic's policies on Kosovo, as well as Belgrade's economic policies.

NATO air strikes against Yugoslavia have included attacks on key radar installations along Montenegro's Adriatic coast, as well as Yugoslav army barracks and an airfield near Podgorica. The government in Podgorica says it fears Milosevic will try to use the NATO attacks to justify a coup within Montenegro.

In Washington, U.S. President Bill Clinton prepared a videotaped message recorded for broadcast today to the people of Yugoslavia. The broadcast seeks to explain NATO air strikes against Yugoslav military targets.

In his remarks, Clinton places the blame for the air strikes on Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic for rejecting an international peace plan for Serbia's Kosovo province.

He says that NATO nations respect Serbia and the dignity of its people. But Clinton says that NATO member states decided they had to act to end the crackdown by Serbian forces in Kosovo, which has a majority ethnic-Albanian population.

Clinton called "on all Serbs and all people of good will to join with us in seeking an end to this needless and avoidable conflict." The message is to be broadcast by satellite.

A televised message by U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright is also due be broadcast to Yugoslavia today. Albright will speak in Serbo-Croat. State Department spokesman James Rubin told reporters late yesterday that the message will by carried by the WorldNet television service of the U.S. Information Agency. To view the program on the Internet in RealVideo, go to WorldNet.