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Yugoslavia: Air Campaign Increases In Intensity To Combat Ethnic Cleansing

London, 14 April 1999 (RFE/RL)-- British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook says the NATO air campaign against Serb forces in Kosovo has increased in intensity, with allied planes flying three times more operations last night than on any single day last week.

Cook told yesterday's British Defense Ministry press briefing in London that the increased number of missions represents an escalation of the NATO campaign aimed at ending "ethnic cleansing" by Serb forces against the majority ethnic Albanian population of Kosovo.

"We are stepping up the intensity of our attacks, because we are determined to make an impact from our air campaigns and to follow up the good success that we've achieved. But ... if [Yugoslav] President [Slobodan] Milosevic wants to make this a long haul, then we have the strength, and we have the unity to do that, and we can keep this up longer than he can. Time is against him, and the longer this continues, the greater the price that his army will pay, and the greater the price that he and his war machine will pay before conclusion. He will have to settle, and the sooner he recognizes that, the better for him and his military."

Cook's statement coincided with talks on the Kosovo crisis in Oslo between U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov. After their talks, Albright acknowledged that NATO members and Moscow continue to disagree over the alliance's air strikes. But both she and Ivanov also stressed the importance of continuing a dialogue.

NATO leaders yesterday also spoke of a continuing buildup of alliance forces near Yugoslavia. The development came amid reports that Yugoslav forces have been involved in a border incursion into northern Albania, a report being investigated by NATO officials.

General Charles Guthrie, head of the British defense staff, told the London briefing that over the past 24 hours NATO has mounted both manned aircraft and cruise missile attacks at military targets throughout Serbia, including Kosovo. Targets included an airfield and ammunition storage dump.

He said the NATO air forces are now increasingly capable of attacking Serb forces on the ground, irrespective of the weather, which slowed earlier operations.

Guthrie provided the current status of NATO air power in the region.

"There are well over 550 aircraft engaged in the operation. More than 240 of them are strike aircraft. We also have a good number of Tomahawk firing platforms at sea."

Guthrie said the Serb forces are trying to repair their air defenses -- the primary target of earlier NATO strikes -- but he said this is likely to prove an impossible task.

Guthrie said the NATO air strikes have hit 50 surface-to-air missile sites, destroying the majority of them. Military analysts say the degradation of the Yugoslav air defenses will make it easier for low-flying allied planes and helicopters to strike tanks and armor.

Guthrie said that more than 50 percent of the Yugoslav military's best aircraft -- Russian-built MIG 29s -- have now been destroyed, and many key airfields have been damaged. He said more than 40 aircraft hangars and support facilities have been significantly damaged.

Guthrie said the destruction of key military headquarters, the growing shortage of fuel, and the destruction of key supply routes and facilities is slowing the estimated 30,000 Serb troops in Kosovo, with many units becoming increasingly isolated.

The Belgrade government says NATO fliers are now targeting civilians, repeating claims that some 10 people were killed when a missile hit a train crossing a bridge yesterday in southern Serbia. NATO's top military commander, General Wesley Clark, acknowledged during an alliance press briefing in Brussels yesterday that the train had been hit and called it a tragic accident that both the pilot and NATO regret.