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Yugoslavia: U.S. Rejects Belgrade's Peace Offer

Washington, 31 March 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The United States has rejected an offer by Belgrade to begin peace talks on Kosovo in return for ending the NATO air campaign against Yugoslavia.

U.S. President Bill Clinton said Tuesday a proposal by Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, conveyed to visiting Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, was unacceptable.

Milosevic offered to withdraw some of his forces from Kosovo if NATO halted its bombings. He also said that all ethnic Albanian refugees who are Yugoslav citizens could return to the province.

Clinton said in a written statement the NATO allies were united in their stand on Kosovo and that the bombing would continue.

Said Clinton: "President Milosevic began this brutal campaign. It is his responsibility to bring it to an immediate end and embrace a just peace. There is strong consensus in NATO that we must press forward with our military action."

U.S. and NATO officials have said the only way to halt the air campaign was for Milosevic to stop a Serbian offensive against Kosovo's Albanians, withdraw his forces and accept a peace deal for the southern Yugoslav province. The Kosovars already have signed the proposed deal that would provide them autonomy and place NATO peacekeepers on the ground.

Milosevic has been adamantly against the stationing of NATO forces in Serbia.

Clinton said: "The allies are ... outraged over President Milosevic's atrocities against innocent people." Clinton was referring to NATO reports of "ethnic cleansing" against Kosovo's Albanians by Serbian forces.

Earlier Tuesday, Clinton said in a speech that NATO has credible reports that Milosevic's troops are singling out for murder the moderate Kosovar leaders who supported a peaceful solution to the conflict.

The president said countries from throughout the Balkans, including Greece, Turkey, Romania and Bulgaria, are helping the U.S. and other western nations to meet the mounting humanitarian crisis in Kosovo.

On NATO unity, Clinton said: "We must remain steady and determined with the will to see this through."

At the State Department, spokesman James Rubin also addressed the humanitarian crisis issue.

Rubin said: "We have very clear indicators that genocide is unfolding in Kosovo. We are looking at a mixture of confirmed and unconfirmed reports at this time. But we don't see any need to await confirmation of genocide. Clearly there are crimes against humanity occurring in Kosovo, and our response to this criminal activity by Milosevic's forces is taking place right now. The full response we are now embarked upon with our NATO allies is fully justified by the crimes against humanity we know are being committed."

Rubin added: " The fact of the matter is, there are some terrible crimes going on in Kosovo. The Serb authorities are committing forced expulsions. We have evidence that houses are burning throughout Kosovo. People are being forced out of their towns and pushed towards the border. We have reports of possible atrocities in many different situations. And what has happened is that through this brutality, the Serb authorities are radicalizing the population of Kosovo and making it all the more difficult to imagine a circumstance where the peoples can begin to live together again." At the Defense Department, spokesman Kenneth Bacon acknowledged that it will take more bombing to neutralize Yugoslav defenses.

Bacon said: "There has not been a knockout punch. We knew the knockout punch would not come quickly. We're in now to the seventh day. I think it will take much longer to degrade the forces as much as we think we need to do."