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Yugoslavia: NATO Says Serbs Use Kosovars As Human Shields

Brussels, 17 May 1999 (RFE/RL) - NATO military spokesman General Walter Jertz says Serb forces may be using internally displaced refugees in Kosovo to complicate the targeting of the alliance's air strikes. Jertz spoke in Brussels today after a further 350 NATO air strikes in the past 24 hours, most aimed at Serb forces in southwest Kosovo. Poor weather hampered the operation. Another NATO spokesman, Jamie Shea, cited allegations that three groups of Kosovar Albanians -- one numbering 10,000 civilians -- were being used as "human shields" in recent weeks.

The question of whether Serb forces use civilians for protection has been raised repeatedly since NATO's air strikes last week near the Kosovo village of Korisa. Belgrade claims 87 ethnic Albanians were killed.

Shea says NATO is tracking two large concentrations of internally displaced civilians in Kosovo, one numbering up to 70,000 people. Kosovar Albanian refugees say up to 40,000 people may be trying to move to Kosovo's southern border.

Shea said there are reports 150 refugees were turned back by Serb forces at the Albanian border, and that a train bound for Macedonia carrying 2,000 others was also stopped.

Sixteen aid convoys operated by non-governmental organisations entered Yugoslavia yesterday, and another 25 are planned in the next few days.

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov is due to meet today with EU foreign ministers amid hope of progress on drafting a UN Security Resolution aimed at a diplomatic solution.

In Belgrade, a UN humanitarian delegation is expected to meet with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. The 15-member team arrived in the Yugoslav capiital yesterday and said they would assess humanitarians needs throughout Yugoslavia, including in Kosovo.

NATO's Shea said today that the alliance expects Belgrade to allow the UN team to go "wherever they want to in Kosovo to see whatever they want to and need to" so that they can "establish a balanced, fair and full report" on conditions there.