Pentagon: Difficult to say we've 'prevented one act of brutality'
NATO: 'New heights' of ethnic cleansing in Kosovo
March 30, 1999
BRUSSELS, Belgium (CNN) -- NATO said Tuesday that a Serb-led ethnic cleansing campaign in Kosovo has reached "new heights," forcing 118,000 ethnic Albanians to flee their homes within the past week.
NATO spokesman Jamie Shea, addressing a news conference at the alliance's headquarters, said the town of Pec -- Kosovo's second largest city, with a former population of 100,000 -- had been "almost totally destroyed."
NATO's military spokesman, Royal Air Force Air Commodore David Wilby, said the ethnic cleansing campaign had clearly reached "new heights."
Yugoslav officials say the ethnic Albanian refugees leaving Kosovo have been driven from their homes by fighting between Albanian separatists of the Kosovo Liberation Army and Serb forces, not by any offensive against civilians. But Shea said all reports reaching NATO indicated that what was happening in Kosovo was a well-organized "master plan" by Belgrade.
He said the reported pattern of violence was that Serb tanks were surrounding villages, then "paramilitaries are going in, rounding up civilians at gunpoint, separating young men from women and children."
"The women and children are then expelled from their homes and then sent toward the border. After they have left the villages, the homes are looted and then systematically torched," Shea said.
He added that if those reports were confirmed, "This is something that we haven't seen since the forced evacuation of Phnom Penh in Cambodia by the Khmer Rouge during the 1970s."
It will take time for NATO to exert enough pressure to stop the reported repression, Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon said Tuesday.
"I think right now it is -- it is difficult to say that we have prevented one act of brutality at this stage," said Bacon.
"This being done very up-close and personal by the Yugoslav army and special police forces in small groups of armed, vicious people going out and shooting people at close range, frequently burning them, shelling their houses," he said.
Bacon said the goal of Operation Allied Force was aimed at damaging the Yugoslav forces carrying out the "repressive activities."
"The principal impact we've had so far is to reduce their ability to sustain themselves, to reduce their supplies ... we are now beginning to focus more on the troops on the ground. That began last night with sustained attacks on their staging areas," Bacon said.
And Bacon said it would likely take more time before the effect of the operation is seen.
"There has not been a knockout punch. We knew a knockout punch would not come quickly," Bacon said. "We're now in the seventh day. I think it will take much longer."
Wilby said that NATO's "offensive operations" against Serb military targets in Yugoslavia were continuing around the clock and that the Yugoslav military's capabilities to crack down on ethnic Albanians would be degraded by the airstrikes.
He said that NATO attacks on Monday were concentrated on seven target regions in northern Serbia and four in Kosovo.
Bacon also pointed out that troops were on the main target list.
"We are now beginning to focus more precisely on the troops on the ground in Kosovo and the troops stationed just outside of Kosovo," said Bacon.
"That began in earnest last night with attacks on staging areas and other places where troops gather or pool together their equipment to be serviced, to be refueled, et cetera," Bacon announced during Tuesday's briefing.
While NATO insists that its military campaign is successful in that respect, Shea admitted that there now was a "humanitarian disaster of enormous proportions."
"NATO's immediate concern is to mobilize all our efforts to address the plight of the refugees," Shea said, adding that emergency supplies such as field hospitals, tents, blankets and food were being sent to the crisis region by air and ship.
NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana said Monday that the alliance was closely coordinating efforts with the U.N. refugee agency and the European Union.
EU humanitarian affairs commissioner Emma Bonino was to travel to the refugee region this week to assess the immediate needs.
NATO targets Yugoslav army, Serb police as Kosovo refugees flee
|Back to the top||
© 2001 Cable News Network. All Rights Reserved.|
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines.