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Yugoslavia: Clinton Opposes Deploying Ground Troops; Three Soldiers Missing

Washington/Belgrade, 1 April 1999 (RFE/RL) - U.S. President Bill Clinton said in a television interview late yesterday that he opposes sending ground troops to Kosovo because he fears the troops would get caught in a quagmire. In Yugoslavia, a search and rescue operation is underway to find three U.S. army soldiers missing in Macedonia. A Pentagon spokesman told reporters in Washington the three are believed to have been abducted by Serb army or paramilitary units. Meanwhile, Russia plans to dispatch seven ships from its Black Sea fleet to the Mediterranean to monitor the situation in Kosovo. The first ships are expected to begin their journey tomorrow. A Russian parliamentary delegation arrived in Yugoslavia today for talks with Yugoslav officials in efforts to find a diplomatic solution. Pope John Paul is sending a top official to Yugoslavia later today to deliver a personal message to President Slobodan Milosevic.

In the interview late yesterday, President Clinton said he has no intention of committing ground troops because it would be difficult to get them back out. The comments come amid some speculation a NATO bombing campaign may not be enough to halt Serb aggression in Kosovo and that ground troops may be necessary.

NATO says it's expanding air attacks on Yugoslav targets and that there will be no pause over the Easter weekend. The Pentagon said last night NATO bombs struck the headquarters of the Serb special forces in Belgrade on Tuesday. It was the closest the bombs have come to central Belgrade.

Officials said the eight days of attacks have already destroyed many Yugoslav aircraft and military facilities, but they say the campaign will have to continue into the forseeable future.

The U.S. says it's concerned Russia's deployment of ships to the Mediterranean will send the wrong signal to Belgrade. State Department spokesman James Rubin said Belgrade might interpret the gesture as a sign of Russian military support.

The refugee situation in Kosovo continues to worsen. The United Nations said yesterday that 125,000 people have fled Kosovo to neighboring territories since the NATO bombings began. Officials say a quarter of Kosovo's population of two million are believed to have left the province in the last year.

In Brussels yesterday, the international organisation Human Rights Watch said it appears the Belgrade government has decided to "cleanse" Kosovo of its ethnic Albanian population.

A statement issued at the Brussels headquarters of Human Rights Watch said its staff in Albania and Macednia had interviewed scores of refugees whose reports supported this conclusion.

The statement said that refugees report that Serbian special police and Yugoslav military units are systematically expelling ethnic Albanians from Kosovo in a well-orchestrated and centrally-organised campaign.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Rubin said atrocities committed against Kosovar Albanians by Serb forces was jeopardizing Yugoslavia's claim to sovereignty over Kosovo.