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Yugoslavia: Missiles Hit Army Headquarters; Refugee Airlift Criticized

Belgrade/Prague, 5 April 1999 (RFE/RL) - NATO carried out fresh airstrikes in Yugoslavia early today with reports of hits on Belgrade's main airport and targets in Kosovo. The independent Beta news agency said NATO missiles hit the headquarters of Yugoslavia's Third Army command in the major Serbian town of Nis. Meanwhile, promises by some countries to shelter Kosovo refugees is drawing criticism from Western allies and aid agencies who say the rescue operation plays into Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's hands. Emma Bonino, the European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid, told the BBC today that moving people out of the region will help Milosevic with his plan of ethnic cleansing for the region. More than 350,000 ethnic Albanians have left Kosovo since NATO bombing started. Several countries, including, Germany, Turkey, and the United States, have agreed to fly them out of the area and give them temporary shelter.

French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin and Italian Prime Minister Massimo D'Alemo refused to commit their governments to taking any refugees, saying that they should stay on Kosovo's borders so they can return to their homes. Their views were echoed by Britain's International Development Secretary, Clare Short, who visited Macedonia today.

Aid efforts in Albania and Macedonia are in full swing. About 1,200 refugees were transferred from the Macedonian border at Blace to a new reception center set up overnight. Numerous aid agencies have also arrived in Albania and refugees are being moved away from border points to the nearest accessible town, Krume.

Concerning the most recent NATO attacks, the official Yugoslav news agency Tanjug said NATO forces had bombed the Slatina airfield southeast of the Kosovo capital, Pristina, as well as an army barracks south of Belgrade. There are also reports that a bridge on the Ibar Riber and both ends of a railway tunnel in the Ibar Valley were hit. The independent Beta news agency also quoted Radio Nis as saying that military targets in the industrial zone in the town of Nis had been hit.

NATO is expected to approve a U.S. plan today to increase the alliance's air strikes against Yugoslavia by sending 24 Apache ground helicopters and 2,000 support troops to Albania.

There have also increasing calls in the U.S. Congress to send ground troops into Kosovo. But in a British newspaper interview today, British Prime Minister Tony Blair said NATO ground forces will only be sent to police an armed political settlement.

Meanwhile, former Israeli prime minister and Nobel peace prize winner Shimon Peres says "international officials" had asked him to try to mediate in the Kosovo crisis. He told Israeli television today that he is considering the request. He refused to be more specific about who he meant by "international officials."

Peres said he is not convinced that all the sides are interested in such a mediation and that he is not an expert on the Kosovo issue. But he said that everyone realises political efforts have to be made to bring an end to the bloodshed and suffering, and stem the flow of refugees.

Peres won the 1993 Nobel peace prize, jointly with former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, for negotiating the Oslo peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.