Washington, 30 March 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The United States says a sustained and systematic pounding of Serbian military targets should make Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic think hard about pressing ahead with his offensive against ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.
White House spokesman Joe Lockhart told reporters on Monday that U.S.-led NATO forces have moved into a new military phase, widening their targets in Yugoslavia and going after Milosevic's ability to launch offensive operations.
Lockhart said Milosevic has a clear choice: embrace peace, or NATO will continue its air campaign to make sure his military forces are crippled.
The spokesman again ruled out introduction of ground combat troops, saying U.S. President Bill Clinton and other NATO leaders believe the air campaign can alone deliver the desired military objectives. The Defense Department, meanwhile, said the United States is sending five more B-1 bombers and other aircraft to join NATO air strikes against Yugoslavia. Spokesman Ken Bacon, who made the announcement late Monday, also told reporters NATO air raids are slowing choking off Yugoslav military capabilities. However, he said weather has been hindering some operations. Meanwhile at the State Department, spokesman James Rubin said Monday the U.S. cautiously welcomes a Russian diplomatic initiative to try to bring peace to Kosovo. He made the comments about an announcement in Moscow that Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov was traveling to Belgrade today (Tuesday) on a peace mission.
Rubin said Primakov is not authorized to put forward any proposal on behalf of NATO other than urging that Milosevic stop the offensive in Kosovo and accept peace.
Rubin said: "We welcome any diplomatic efforts that lead to a halt to Belgrade's offensive against the Kosovar Albanian population and to convince President Milosevic to comply with his international commitments. But let me be clear, NATO will continue air operations until such time as President Milosevic halts his offensive and commits to a settlement based on the Rambouillet Accords."
The Rambouillet accords, signed by the ethnic Albanians, were rejected by Belgrade earlier this month. The accords would grant Kosovo autonomy within Serbia and provide for NATO peacekeepers on the ground.
Rubin painted a bleak picture of what is going on in Kosovo, a mainly ethnic Albanian Serbian province.
The spokesman said: "Serbian forces continue their attacks against both Kosovo Liberation Army positions and the broader Kosovar-Albanian civilian population. The heaviest military and policy operations today (Monday) appear to be around Podujevo and in southwest Kosovo, near the Albanian border. Refugees continue to stream into Albania. As many as 60,000 have arrived in Albania in the last 48 hours, according to the U.N., and to a lesser extend, into Montenegro and Macedonia. Reports of killings and mass expulsions of Kosovar-Albanians continue to accumulate."
Rubin said Washington has credible reports that four prominent Kosovar-Albanian leaders have been executed by the Serbs, including Fehmi Agani, a member of the Rambouillet peace delegation.
He rejected suggestions that the Serbian violence against the Kosovars was a reaction to the NATO air campaign, saying the Serbian forces were in place before the bombing started.
Rubin said there are signs that genocide is unfolding in Kosovo. Genocide, a legal term, is defined as a systematic attempt to kill a group of people.
Spokesmen at the White House and at the State Department say Milosevic could be held accountable. They say the Yugoslav leader bears political responsibility for the killing and uprooting of civilians.
In another briefing, a senior U.S. State Department official told reporters that the 500,000 displaced Kosovars fleeing Serb military forces are beginning to strain international relief efforts.
Julia Taft, the department's top refugee expert, said the United Nations will be holding meetings in Geneva this week, seeking pledges of further funds and equipment to help the refugees.
She said about 75,000 Kosovars have fled to neighboring Macedonia, Albania, and Montenegro.
Taft said that the United States and international relief agencies such as the International Committee of the Red Cross have enough food for now to feed the refugees.