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Southeastern Europe: Kosovo Crisis Leads To Greater NATO Cooperation With Region

London, 26 April 1999 (RFE/RL) -- British Defense Secretary George Robertson says the Kosovo crisis will lead to greater cooperation between the NATO alliance and the countries of southeastern Europe, particularly Macedonia.

Robertson, who returned from the Washington NATO summit overnight, spoke to the daily news briefing on the Kosovo crisis at the Ministry of Defense in London today.

He spoke after another night of NATO air strikes at military targets in Kosovo and Serbia, including the destruction of the third and last remaining bridge over the Danube at Novi Sad. The month-long air campaign aims to stop expulsion by Serb forces of the ethnic Albanian population of Kosovo, and to force Belgrade back to the negotiating table.

He said: "These events in Kosovo, tragic as they are, have shown that NATO is united in its aim to enter the 21st Century stronger and more solid than ever before. Nations joining together to promote the values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law will be this generation's gift to the next."

He said the accession of three new alliance members -- Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary -- have shown that this will "be no exclusive club, and there will be greater cooperation with south east European states."

Robertson said he will go this week to Macedonia and Albania, struggling to cope with an influx of hundreds of thousands of Kosovar refugees. He said: "These are very dark days for the Balkans. The threat remains not only to the people of Kosovo, but also to the region as a whole." But he added: "NATO is stronger and NATO will prevail."

The NATO allies have been briefing the seven so-called Balkan "front-line" states since the outset of the Kosovo crisis. They are Albania, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Romania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia and Slovenia.

Robertson said the decision of NATO Secretary General Javier Solana to re-examine the option of deploying ground troops in Kosovo was "a sensible contingency measure." But he repeated that NATO has no intention of embarking on a "wholesale, organized, opposed invasion of Kosovo."

He said Britain would look positively at any request from NATO's Supreme Allied Commander Europe, General Wesley Clark, for "additional air assets." He said the additional air power will enable NATO to attack Serb military targets 24 hours a day, putting the forces of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic under greater pressure. The NATO fliers were also about to "completely turn off his fuel tap."

Robertson said the NATO unity of purpose which he said was evident in Washington contrasted with what he called "the cracks now appearing in the Milosevic regime."

He said a call by Yugoslav Deputy Prime Minister Vuk Draskovic yesterday "for the Serbian state media to tell the truth about the Kosovo conflict, and to stop lying to the Serbian people, blows a hole in the facade of Belgrade's unity."

Robertson said, in a revealing interview, Draskovic accused his fellow leaders of "lying to the people that any day now we are going to prevail over NATO, that NATO is about to collapse, and that Russia is on the verge of starting World War Three."

Draskovic had also said NATO had never been stronger and more homogeneous, and Russia would not send military aid as this would close the door to western financial aid.

British military spokesman General Charles Guthrie said NATO has continued with its air campaign over the past 24 hours, destroying a number of targets in Serbia, including the bridge at Novi Sad, effectively splitting Yugoslavia into north and south.

The NATO air forces also hit a fuel depot, a railway bridge and a military airfield. In Kosovo itself, the alliance pilots attacked tanks, several trucks, and artillery positions.

Guthrie says NATO has conducted some 10,500 sorties since the air campaign began a month ago, 3,500 of which were "attack sorties."

He said by destroying bridges and disrupting road and rail links NATO is systematically cutting off the routes that link the Serb troops and police on the ground in Kosovo with their stores and logistic support areas.