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Yugoslavia: Britain Concerned With Changes In Serbian Tactics

Prague, 8 April 1999 (RFE/RL) -- As NATO bombing raids continue in Yugoslavia, Britain is expressing concern at what it calls the "worrying change" in Serbian tactics in dealing with the huge flow of ethnic-Albanian refugees from Kosovo.

British Development Minister Claire Short told a London press conference today that Serbian security forces now appear to be preventing people from leaving Kosovo. Instead, she said, they are rounding the refugees up and sending them back to unknown destinations inside the province. Short also noted the Serbs have closed border crossings.

This apparent reversal of methods follows what is believed to be a massive Serbian effort in the past two weeks to drive the refugees off Kosovo soil into surrounding states, mainly Albania and Macedonia. Short said:

"The reason for this change in tactics is not yet clear. The (British) government's message to (Yugoslav President Slobodan) Milosevic is that the forcible movement of people in whatever direction is unacceptable. He and his henchmen will be held fully responsible for any harm that comes to the Kosovars at the hands of his troops and paramilitaries; they will be held accountable for war crimes."

Short said Britain will do all it can to find out about the condition of internally displaced people within Kosovo and will provide any help that is possible. She acknowledged, however, that not much can be done at the moment to bring relief for the people inside Kosovo.

What Britain can and will do, she said, is to continue the war until Serbian aggression is reversed, Serbian troops are withdrawn, an international peace force is put in place and the Kosovars are able to return home safely:

"There will be no compromise, no fudge and no partition of Kosovo. No misuse, or threat to misuse, the people of Kosovo in any way will make us deviate from our objective."

Short also expressed concern at reports that the Macedonian authorities have been forcing some of the arriving refugees onto buses and taking them to Albania. She described this as unacceptable. Alluding to Macedonia's concern that it could be swamped by the incoming tide of ethnic Albanian refugees, Short said:

"We understand Macedonian concerns and will provide support to Macedonia, provided it complies with international humanitarian law and norms in its treatment of refugees."

She continued to say that the situation for refugees in Macedonia and Albania is beginning to improve, although a huge task remains ahead for the international community. She said British Prime Minister Tony Blair has asked her to give priority to putting into place arrangements to enable members of separated families to contact one another and be reunited.

At the same London press briefing, a senior British air force officer gave an account of some of the military developments within the last 24 hours. Air Marshall John Day said NATO aircraft overnight attacked a series of targets in Kosovo, as well as key headquarter buildings in the capital, Belgrade.

He said the continuing action underlines the commitment of the nations in NATO to play a full part in the campaign in Yugoslavia and to keep up the impetus of that campaign until its objectives are achieved.

As for British aircraft participating in the raids, he said many returned to base with their bomb loads intact because of a lack of targets. But he said two Harrier jets had successfully identified a military vehicle compound and had attacked it with cluster bombs. He said initial reports indicate the attack was successful.

Day also said NATO forces will remain focused on attacking Serbian army and special police forces in Kosovo. He said the alliance has already disrupted communications in and around Kosovo and that this will make it increasingly difficult for Serbian forces to continue their repression.