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Yugoslavia: NATO Attacks Continue Despite Yugoslav Ceasefire

Belgrade, 7 April 1999 (RFE/RL) - NATO continued its airstrikes against Serbian military targets early today, rejecting Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's declaration of a unilateral ceasefire in Kosovo. The Yugoslav government said the ceasefire, which took effect last night, was to honor the Orthodox Easter holiday this weekend. The Contact Group on the former Yugoslavia is due to meet today in Brussels to discuss the situation in the Serbian province of Kosovo and to determine its next moves concerning the crisis. Speaking to reporters on his flight to Brussels, U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen said there is a growing body of evidence of massive Serb atrocities in Kosovo, including videos smuggled out of Kosovo and numerous testimonies of ethnic Albanian eye-witnesses. The Kosovo Liberation Army's news agency today published names of more than 170 Kosovo Albanians said to have been executed by Yugoslavs.

NATO aircraft have again bombed fuel depots, military targets and industrial areas in Kosovo and Yugoslavia, apparently causing considerable damage. Yugoslav news media reported the heaviest attacks came shortly before daybreak. The targets included a fuel depot in Novi Sad, near the Hungarian border as well as a chemical plant and several factories in Serbia. Targets around the Kosovo capital, Pristina, were also attacked.

NATO aircraft raided other industrial plants shortly before midnight. Yugoslav media said there had been civilian casualties in Pristina but gave no details. NATO has not released a full report on the attacks. However a British spokesman said British planes encountered the heaviest anti-aircraft fire since the offensive began. He said all British planes returned safely to base. In Brussels today, NATO officials said planes from the U.S. aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt had participated in some of the raids over the past 24 hours.

NATO officials also said that Serb armored vehicles had been attacked in yesterday's daylight raids. It was the first direct strike against armored columns in the two-week campaign. Armored vehicles have played a major role in destroying ethnic Albanian villages in Kosovo.

Last night, some 40,000 ethnic Albanian refugees from Kosovo were moved from the no man's land at the border between Macedonia and Yugoslavia. An RFE/RL correspondent reported today from the border point in Blace that, according to a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees' (UNHCR) representative there, all refugees had been moved by Macedonian officials to transit points inside the country.

Paula Ghedini, a spokeswoman for the agency, said in Blace that some 15,000 refugees had been taken to a transit camp near the Macedonian capital Skopje, while some others might have been driven toward neighboring Albania during the night.

In the meantime, Andrea Angeli, a spokeswoman for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said today in Tirana that Yugoslavia had closed the main border crossing point from Kosovo to Albania at Morina during the night. Angeli also said Yugoslav officials were apparently telling the refugees that it was safe for them to return to their villages because of a ceasefire.

Jacques Franquin, a spokesman for the UNHCR in Kukes, Albania, confirmed today that the flow of refugees from Kosovo had stopped, but he said that there still was a long queue of prospective refugees waiting on the Kosovo side of the border. Franquin said there were now almost 290,000 ethnic Albanian refugees from Kosovo in Albania.

Meanwhile, Russian President Boris Yeltsin has sent a message to the leaders of a number of countries with proposals to try to end the Kosovo conflict. Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov did not say what the proposals were or to which countries the proposals had been sent. But he noted Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov had spoken overnight with U.S. Vice President Al Gore and said he himself had spoken to U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright as well as the German and French foreign ministers.

Ivanov, speaking after a meeting with Primakov and security officials, said NATO's dismissal of a Serbian proposal for a ceasefire was "entirely predictable."

Russia welcomed Belgrade's ceasefire proposal yesterday, saying it was a chance for peace. A spokesman for Yeltsin said today both NATO and Belgrade should halt military action at the same time and that negotiation was the only way to peace in Kosovo.

Western leaders said they were skeptical of the Yugoslavia's unilateral ceasefire and promised to press ahead with airstrikes until Milosevic accepts Western terms. They include the withdrawal of Serb special police and military units from Kosovo and a three-year interim autonomy agreement to be policed by NATO-led troops.

In Brussels today, the Contact Group on the former Yugoslavia -- Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Russia and the U.S. -- are expected to take part in the meeting of the foreign ministry's political directors.

U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen today arrived in Brussels with a congressional delegation. Cohen and the congressmen are to meet NATO Secretary General Javier Solana and U.S. General Wesley Clark, NATO's Supreme Commander in Europe, to review the military situation in Yugoslavia.

Also today, the European Union's interior ministers are due to hold a special meeting in Luxembourg to discuss the refugee crisis in Kosovo. The meeting is expected to propose a system for dividing the refugees among west European countries. There are now 244,000 Kosovo refugees in Albania and some 130,000 in Macedonia, with tens of thousands more stuck in a "no-man's land" at the border.

Yesterday, the U.N.'s High Commissioner for Refugees, Sadako Ogata, told a meeting in Geneva the international community must be prepared for a long period of assistance to the refugees from Kosovo.

A British defense official estimated that 1.1 million of Kosovo's 1.8 million ethnic Albanian population has either fled or are displaced persons inside the province.