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Yugoslavia: NATO Escalates Bombing; Chernomyrdin's Mission Ends

Brussels, 1 May 1999 (RFE/RL) - NATO said today its latest wave of air strikes against Yugoslavia had focused on bridges, radio relay stations and other parts of Belgrade's military communications network. In a marked escalation of the air campaign, NATO aircraft flew more than 600 missions over Yugoslavia last night for the second day in a row. Interfax reports that Russia's special Balkan envoy, Viktor Chernomyrdin, today telephoned President Boris Yeltsin on the results of his two-day diplomatic mission in Bonn, Rome and Belgrade. After returning to Moscow today, Chernomyrdin said he saw only a "small chance" to settle the Kosovo crisis. But he urged NATO and Belgrade not to squander the opportunity.

NATO spokesman Peter Daniel said seven bridges that were hit last night formed a key line of communication and transport between Yugoslav forces in Kosovo and elsewhere in Yugoslavia.

Chernomyrdin met for about six hours yesterday with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. He said before leaving that they had achieved "solid progress." But the U.S. and Britain have both dismissed reported proposals for an unarmed U.N. peacekeeping force in Kosovo as unacceptable.

Correspondents say more than 13,000 Kosovo refugees entered Albania during the night, mostly from the town of Prizren. The U.N. refugee agency says Serb forces appear to be involved in a "final push" to oust ethnic Albanians from Prizren.

The U.N.'s top war crimes prosecutor, Louise Arbour, also is calling for war crimes investigators to be allowed into Kosovo as soon as possible. Her appeal comes as the U.N. and human rights groups try to gather evidence of an alleged massacre of more than 100 ethnic Albanians earlier this week at Meja in southwestern Kosovo.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a statement that it has conducted separate interviews with 19 witnesses this week. The witnesses are among Kosovo refugees who reached Kukes, Albania. They say Yugoslav Army troops killed 100 to 300 men and boys in Meja, a small village outside Djakovica.

The Associated Press quotes other Kosovar refugees in Albania as saying they saw scores of male bodies beside the road in Meja as they fled.

A spokeswoman for the UNHCR -- the United Nations refugee agency -- told the BBC that the agency also has clear evidence of what she called a "mass killing" of ethnic Albanian men by Serb forces in Meja.

A Yugoslav official told the BBC, however, that the report cannot be trusted because the UNHCR does not have anyone in Kosovo.

Meanwhile, U.S. civil rights leader Jesse Jackson is expected to meet Milosevic today in a bid to gain the release of three U.S. soldiers captured by Yugoslav forces.

Yugoslav Foreign Ministry spokesman Nebojsa Vujovic said yesterday that while Jackson's visit to Belgrade is positive, the release of the soldiers is not on the agenda.

Jackson met with the soldiers yesterday in Belgrade and said they were in good health. Jackson said he brought the men letters from family members, and held a prayer service with them.

Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon welcomed Jackson's visit and called on Belgrade to release the servicemen immediately.