Washington, 6 April 1999 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President Bill Clinton says the United States is undertaking a large-scale humanitarian aid campaign for Kosovo to help ethnic Albanian refugees seeking sanctuary from Serbian forces.
Clinton said at the White House on Monday the U.S. is shipping 500,000 daily rations of food and medical supplies to Albania to be distributed there and in neighboring countries. In addition, he said, the U.S. is preparing 600,000 daily rations for refugees in Macedonia.
Even before the Kosovo crisis began, Clinton said the U.S. stored 36,000 metric tons of food in the region, enough to feed a half million people for three months.
About 90 percent of Kosovo's 1.9 million population is ethnic Albanian. There are an estimated 400,000 refugees who have fled Kosovo, a Serb province, and 600,000 others who are reportedly on the move inside Kosovo.
Clinton said the United States has committed $150 million in humanitarian aid and is willing to provide temporary asylum to refugees.
Said Clinton: "Today I can say that we are prepared to accept up to 20,000 refugees. Our goal is to take some of the burden off the struggling front-line nations. But let me be clear: The ethnic cleansing of Kosovo cannot stand as a permanent event."
Commenting on the two-week old NATO air campaign against Yugoslavia, Clinton said allied warplanes are striking hard at what he called Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's "machinery of repression" while making a deliberate effort to minimize harm to innocent people.
Clinton said: "If Mr. Milosevic does not do what is necessary, NATO will continue an air campaign. It will be undiminished, unceasing and unrelenting. It will inflict such damage that either he will change his calculation or we will seriously diminish his capacity to maintain his grip and impose his control on Kosovo. We are prepared to sustain this effort for the long haul. Our plan is to persist until we prevail."
Clinton called Milosevic a "dictator who has shown time and again that he would rather rule over rubble than not rule at all."
He said the air campaign against Yugoslavia would not stop until Milosevic agrees to pull back his forces from Kosovo, let the refugees return, accept a political settlement for Kosovo that includes autonomy and agree that NATO peacekeepers monitor the situation.
The U.S. president defended the air campaign, saying it was the best possible available option to keep NATO's word in the face of Serb aggression, maintain allied unity and to pursue the political objectives toward Kosovo.
U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen summed up the situation this way:
" This country could not sit on the sidelines and watch Slobodan Milosevic slaughter hundreds and thousands of people, which he was prepared to do; to drive them into the hills, to starve them, to have them freeze to death. We could simply not maintain any credibility as a moral leader in this world, and certainly not as the leader of the NATO force. So there was no question about the options, and this was the option that they unanimously agreed to."
Writing in Monday's Washington Post newspaper, former U.S. Senator Robert Dole, the 1996 Republican presidential nominee, said the United States must achieve its objectives in Kosovo and use all means necessary to do it.
"The credibility of the administration, the alliance and our nation are therefore all at stake," Dole` wrote. "If we fail and allow Serbian aggression in Kosovo to stand, this month's celebration at the 50th anniversary of the founding of NATO conceivably could become NATO's funeral."
NATO is celebrating its anniversary by holding a summit in Washington this month. It will formally welcome to the alliance three new members -- Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic.