Brussels, 2 April 1999 (RFE/RL) -- NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana said yesterday he is in daily contact with leaders of countries neighboring Kosovo and has assured them of the alliance's support and assistance during what he called this "difficult time."
Solana was commenting at a news conference in Brussels yesterday on the exodus of thousands of ethnic Albanian refugees who have poured into Albania, Macedonia and other regions of the Balkans.
Solana said alliance countries are supplying Albania and Macedonia with emergency supplies of shelters, blankets, food, clothing and medicine to help what referred to as the "homeless victims" of the regime of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.
Speaking as NATO air strikes on Serb military targets entered their second week, Solana said "ethnic cleansing" by Yugoslav army and Serb police and paramilitaries is a direct challenge to the values of a new and undivided Europe.
He said: "We cannot tolerate the behavior of a more barbarous age in Europe, a continent which is driving toward a more united and enlightened future."
Solana and General Wesley Clark -- NATO's Supreme Allied Commander Europe -- were asked if there is a risk that the Kosovo conflict could spread.
Clark said alliance officials have watched with growing concern Milosevic's military strategy as "he has attempted to meddle in the affairs of neighboring states." He said: "We know he is meddling in Macedonia, in Bosnia; he's making threats around the region. We're ready if there are challenges to us. That's our response at this stage. If more needs to be done, we'll do it."
Commenting on a reported initiative by Russian President Boris Yeltsin to organize a conference of the "big eight" foreign ministers, Solana said: "We welcome all efforts to secure a political settlement but on the grounds that the international community has demanded." Solana added: "On that, President Milosevic has the last word."
Solana said that at the Rambouillet peace talks Milosevic had a unique opportunity to settle the Kosovo conflict through negotiation, but he rejected an agreement, even though it took Serbian, as well as Kosovar Albanian, interests into account.
Asked about Russia's intention to send a naval reconnaissance ship to the Adriatic, Solana said: "President Yeltsin has stated very clearly that Russia will not get involved in this conflict. I would like to take the word of President Yeltsin."
Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev said yesterday that the ship, from the Black Sea fleet based in the Crimea, will leave shortly to "analyze and draw the appropriate conclusions from the situation in the Balkans." He said six other vessels might be sent, as well.