Washington, 29 March 1999 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President Bill Clinton says NATO is determined to respond firmly to the continued violence in the Serbian province of Kosovo.
Clinton told reporters in brief comments at the White House late Sunday that he has been in close telephone contact with his British, French, German and Italian counterparts. He said all the leaders share U.S. determination to frustrate Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's campaign against ethnic Albanians.
The president also praised U.S. forces for rescuing the pilot of an F-117A stealth fighter whose plane went down over Yugoslavia Saturday. The pilot was rescued hours later and flown to safety. The downing of the 42 million-dollar American plane was the first reported allied loss in four days of NATO air attacks.
Discussing the humanitarian crisis, Clinton said that "the continued brutality and repression of the Serb forces further underscores the need for NATO to persevere."
The president said he strongly supports NATO Secretary General Javier Solana's decision to move to a new phase in the air campaign against Yugoslavia by hitting a broader range of targets, including Yugoslav security forces in the field.
Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said NATO air strikes are not to blame for the Yugoslav military crackdown against Kosovar Albanians.
Albright told an American television (CBS) interviewer Sunday that Milosevic is solely responsible for the attacks on Kosovars and that the goal of the intensified NATO air offensive is to force Belgrade to end the attacks and sign a peace accord.
Albright said: What we think is happening is that Milosevic is really getting ready to eliminate the Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK) and to have an increased and systematic campaign of ethnic cleansing."
Reports from Kosovo say tens of thousands of ethnic Albanians are being driven from their homes. NATO officials said more than one-half million Kosovars are refugees - roughly one of four families.
In Brussels, NATO spokesman Jamie Shea told reporters Sunday the alliance will press ahead with the air strikes.
"On the political front, we are, as you know, very concerned about the security and stability of the neighboring countries to Yugoslavia, particularly partner countries of this alliance. The Secretary General had a long conversation yesterday evening with the prime minister of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and he has also spoken yesterday evening to the Albanian prime minister. And with both prime ministers he discussed, of course, the deteriorating humanitarian situation in and now around Kosovo."
Shea confirmed reports that the number of ethnic Albanian refugees is growing.
" We now estimate that the number of people displaced from their homes in Kosovo has gone over the half-milion mark. That is well in excess of 25 percent of the total population of Kosovo, and that number is increasing at a rapid pace. Just over the last few days, 50,000 people have been uprooted and are trying to seek shelter wherever they can. We have reports, which have been confirmed with every passing hour, of about 20,000 fleeing from the fighting in the northern central areas of Kosovo, trying to get into Albania."
At the briefing, NATO Air Commodore David Wilby told reporters the NATO allied air campaign had consisted of some 253 sorties as of Sunday.
"Allied air forces again conducted attacks throughout the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, of the integrated air defense system, and in addition on military command and control logistic facilities. Evidence is already confirming the emerging effectiveness of our efforts in these vital areas, and without significant collateral damage to civilian life or infrastructure."