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Yugoslavia: Air Strikes Hit 40 Targets Overnight

Prague, 26 March 1999 (RFE/RL) -- NATO says that it destroyed some 40 targets last night and early yesterday in a first wave of missile and bombing attacks on Yugoslav military infrastructure.

The alliance's supreme commander in Europe, U.S. General Wesley Clark, told a press conference in Brussels that NATO planes had not been confronted by much Yugoslav anti-aircraft fire and that allied warplanes shot down three Yugoslav fighters which challenged them. He said that all NATO planes returned safely to base.

Clark, speaking at NATO headquarters, told reporters that the attacks will continue until Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic complies with international demands that accepts a peace plan for Kosovo.

"We aim to put his military and security forces at risk. We're going to systematically and progressively attack, disrupt, degrade, devastate and, ultimately, unless President Milosevic complies with the demands of the international community, we're going to destroy these forces and their facilities and support. The operation will be just as long and difficult as President Milosevic requires it to be."

The top NATO commander declined to provide a specific list of targets hit in air strikes so far, saying that any detailed information could compromise the safety of NATO pilots. But he said the targets extend across Yugoslavia and that there are no planned sanctuaries, or areas which NATO promises not to strike. General Clark said:

"President Milosevic and his military leaders should understand that there is no sanctuary for them, their military forces, their command and control elements as this campaign continues because they are part of the mechanism of the Serb military and security forces and the repression."

Clark said that the attacks during the night and early yesterday largely struck at Yugoslavia's sophisticated air defense systems in an effort to minimize the danger for later sorties. He said that the bombing targets also included military support and police facilities.

"We're starting with the integrated air defense system, the anti-aircraft sites, command and control facilities and infrastructure and will then be progressively and systematically moving from there."

He said that Serbia has formidable air defense capabilities but that so far NATO has not seen them come into operation.

"Frankly, we know what [Milosevic's] air defense system is, we know he has some formidable capabilities, we just did not see them last night. Last night the principal opposition seemed to be some fighter aircraft that were brought up against us. At least three were destroyed, including some of the most modern and capable aircraft in his inventory."

Correspondents say that American F-16 fighters shot down two Russian-built MiG 29 aircraft and a Dutch F-16 destroyed another. The allied aircraft were apparently not challenged by Yugoslavia's ground-based air defense systems which defense experts estimate include some 600 surface-to-air missiles, including sophisticated Russian-built SA-2 and SA-6 systems.

NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana, also speaking at the briefing, said that the attacks are not aimed at the people of Yugoslavia but against a repressive regime.

"We have no quarrel with the people of Yugoslavia. Our action is directed against the repressive policies of the Yugoslav government."

Solana said that the aim of the current NATO campaign is to obtain a political agreement by Belgrade that will end the conflict in Kosovo and allow peace and stability in the Balkans.