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Yugoslavia: Two Die In Helicopter Crash; Clinton Visits NATO In Brussels

Brussels, 5 May 1999 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. military spokesmen say two U.S. Army pilots were killed when their Apache helicopter crashed on a training mission in Albania early this morning. The Apache pilots were believed to be the first NATO and U.S. military casualties in the military intervention against Yugoslavia over Kosovo, which began March 24. At NATO headquarters in Brussels this morning, U.S. President Bill Clinton was briefed on the intensified war effort against Yugoslavia. In Canada, the first plane in an airlift of Kosovo refugees to countries outside Europe has landed. Approximately 250 ethnic Albanians -- mostly women, children and the elderly -- arrived yesterday at a military base in eastern Canada from Macedonia. Canada has offered to take 5,000 Kosovo refugees.

The Apache helicopter crash occurred in darkness about 75 kilometers north of Tirana's Rinas airport. No further details are available, and the cause of the crash is being investigated. The names of the two pilots have not yet been released.

It was the second Apache crash since the helicopters were deployed in Albania late last month. The are to be used to attack Serbian tanks in Kosovo province. In the crash last week, the crew escaped unharmed.

Clinton arrived at NATO headquarters in Brussels earlier today for talks with NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana. U.S. officials said Clinton's talks with Solana focused on the intensified war effort against Yugoslav targets. White House Press Secretary Joe Lockhart said the visit was meant to "demonstrate NATO's unity and perserverance" on the military campaign.

Reuter said Clinton also updated Solana on his private talks with Viktor Chernomyrdin, Russia's special envoy to the Balkans, who has been trying to broker a peace.

Clinton was to leave for Germany later for a two-day visit to U.S. forces involved both in the war effort and in providing humanitarian assistance to Kosovo refugees.

Later today in Germany, Clinton is due to meet the three U.S. servicemen who were released on Sunday in Belgrade, following talks between Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and U.S. civil rights activist Jesse Jackson.

Last night, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said there is "general agreement" on basic NATO demands regarding Kosovo but that more negotiations are needed on an international peace force and a Serbian troop withdrawal.

Annan spoke with reporters after briefing the 15-nation U.N. Security Council about his own discussions in Moscow and Berlin, and after meeting with Russia's special Balkans envoy Viktor Chernomyrdin.

Annan said a consensus that includes Russia is emerging on fielding an international military force in Kosovo that would ensure the safe return of ethnic Albanian refugees. But he said there is much work to do before Belgrade is convinced and a deal is reached.

Annan also said he has written to Yugoslav authorities seeking permission for a U.N. team to travel to Yugoslavia -- beginning in Kosovo -- to assess humanitarian needs after six weeks of NATO bombing. Annan said he has not asked for a pause in the NATO bombings while the team is in the country.

Concerning the refugee crisis, almost 30,000 refugees are due to be flown to Canada, the U.S. and Australia over the next few weeks to relieve overcrowded camps in Macedonia. The first of 40 flights to bring about 20,000 refugees to the U.S. is due to arrive in the eastern state of New Jersey later today.

Meanwhile, the UNHCR -- the United Nations refugee agency -- wants to move 100,000 Kosovo refugees out of camps in the Albanian border town of Kukes to new locations further from the border.

Spokesman Ray Wilkinson says a decision could be taken soon on whether to close the camps in Kukes for fear of shelling by Serb artillery.

NATO said yesterday that Serb security forces have resumed ethnic cleansing of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo on a massive scale. Spokesman Jamie Shea said the arrival Monday of around 11,000 refugees in Macedonia is evidence of what he called a "systematic deportation campaign."