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Yugoslavia: NATO Learns Of Ethnic Cleansing Outside Kosovo

London, 3 May 1999 (RFE/RL) -- A NATO spokesman says the alliance has received "disturbing news" for the first time that Serb forces have carried out what he called "ethnic cleansing" of ethnic Albanians in parts of Serbia outside Kosovo.

Jamie Shea told a news briefing at NATO headquarters in Brussels on Friday (April 30) that the reports tell of "ethnic cleansing" at a town just east of the Kosovo border. He did not elaborate.

His remarks coincided with the presence in Belgrade of Russian special envoy Viktor Chernomyrdin who is reported to be bearing some new proposals for ending the Kosovo conflict.

The NATO alliance embarked on air strikes against Serb military and strategic targets in Yugoslavia almost six weeks ago in a bid to stop the persecution of Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority. Hundreds of thousands have fled into Albania and Macedonia.

Shea, and British officials at a separate press briefing in London, said that in the previous 24 hours NATO had intensified its almost six week-long campaign of air strikes against targets in Yugoslavia.

In London, British Chief of Defense Staff General Sir Charles Guthrie gave an account:

"In all, more than 600 sorties were flown. In Belgrade, the single most intense attack took place so far in this campaign. We struck the main TV transmitter, the headquarters of the Yugoslav army, the Federal Interior Ministry, a police building, and an ammunition storage site. Attacks also took place against the airfield at Ponikva, against a number of bridges, petrol oil and lubricant sites, and against a number of radio relay sites. We also struck tactical targets in Kosovo, including several groups of military vehicles, fuel buses, tanks, and surface-to-air missile sites."

In Brussels, Shea called it "one of the largest and most diverse target lists thus far." He said all alliance aircraft returned safely to their bases.

Serb officials said one of the NATO missiles hit a civilian area of Belgrade, but reports from the city said there were no casualties.

Shea said the alliance now has more than double the number of aircraft that it had available for operations one month ago, and has also benefited from good weather. He said the arrival of an additional 28 tanker aircraft in the next few days would facilitate around-the-clock operations.

Shea said 7,000 NATO troops are assisting Albanian authorities to cope with the influx of hundreds of thousands of Kosovar Albanians. They are preparing to build three refugee camps to hold some 50,000 more refugees. He said NATO engineers are now improving the road north to Kukes in northern Albania where many refugees are stranded.

Shea said that in the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia, NATO forces are looking to expand an existing refugee camp to cope with an influx of an additional 6,000 refugees who crossed the border yesterday.

Shea said a report published in Paris today by the private humanitarian aid group, Doctors Without Borders, represents the "first, systematic analysis" of what had happened to one single Kosovar community, most of whom have now fled to Montenegro.

The group interviewed 1,537 refugees from some 200 families. Shea said: "It appears that 13 percent of the men aged between 15 and 55 are missing." He said all of the refugees, almost without exception, reported "terror and intimidation by the Serb forces."

He said almost half of the refugees reported that they had had their identity papers confiscated by Serb authorities.

He said many spoke of "intimidation, looting of homes, of being forced to leave at the point of a gun."

Shea said the alliance has been worried by increasing indications of "men being separated from convoys" -- including some 100-200 from Djakovice who were en route to Macedonia. Shea said: "Refugees who came afterwards said they saw a number of bodies."

Earlier Friday, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said it had evidence that Serb forces had "massacred a large group of male refugees in the southwestern village of Meja" earlier this month.