NATO brushes aside Yugoslav offer, targets troops
NATO: 'New heights' of ethnic cleansing in Kosovo
March 31, 1999
BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (CNN) -- There was no letup Wednesday in the 7-day-old NATO bombing campaign against Yugoslavia. Though a Russian peace mission Tuesday fueled Serb hopes that airstrikes would end, air raid sirens sounded again overnight.
Early Wednesday, CNN Correspondent Brent Sadler reported seeing explosions in the capital, Belgrade, though Pentagon officials said NATO forces were increasing attacks on Yugoslav army troops and Serb police units in and around Kosovo.
"We started by attacking garrisons and the support structure which supports these forces in the field ... and subsequently have gone into attacks on deployed forces or forces in their staging areas," said U.S. Rear Adm. Thomas Wilson, director of intelligence, Joint Staff.
"These are an ongoing set of targets that will be struck and restruck until we believe that we are achieving the desired level of degradation," he said.
CNN's Martin Savidge aboard the USS Gonzalez in the Adriatic Sea said six Tomahawk cruise missiles were fired in rapid succession from the Gonzalez and nearby USS Philippine Sea.
A seventh missile misfired on the Philippine Sea, he said. The missile apparently never left its launch box and its booster was immediately extinguished by a fire-suppression system. About five minutes later, a backup missile was launched, completing the mission, Savidge said.
"All of the Tomahawks flew off under a near full moon over a near tranquil sea. The entire mission from first launch to last took about 25 minutes," he said.
NATO said its airstrikes would continue despite an offer by Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to return to peace talks if NATO stopped the attacks.
The proposal followed six hours of negotiations in Belgrade between Milosevic and a trio of senior Russian diplomats, including Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov.
"To open the space for negotiations, (NATO) aggression on Yugoslavia has to stop immediately," Milosevic said in a statement read on state-run television.
The United States and NATO rejected the Yugoslav offer, saying it "falls far short" of the conditions Milosevic must meet to end the air campaign.
"I made clear I cannot accept the precondition that we must cease military activities first and then start negotiating. I am sure the NATO partners see it the same way," German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said after being briefed by Primakov.
And with the Serb offensive now described by the White House as "potential genocide," U.S. President Bill Clinton warned Milosevic risked losing his claim to Kosovo.
A U.S.-driven push for an independent Kosovo would be a major policy change for Washington.
"For a sustained period, he (Milosevic) will see that his military will be seriously diminished; key military infrastructure destroyed; the prospect of international support for Serbia's claim to Kosovo increasingly jeopardized," Clinton said Tuesday.
It has been long-standing U.S. policy to support autonomy for Kosovo as part of Yugoslavia -- but not independence.
Administration officials say Clinton is also signaling a U.S. readiness to support a speedy move to Phase Three of the NATO air campaign -- a major increase in the bombing of Yugoslav military and police forces in Kosovo.
Refugees said soldiers and police were forcing ethnic Albanians from their homes, burning their villages and killing their leaders.
With almost no international journalists or peace observers in Kosovo, the reported atrocities are impossible to verify.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan called the alleged Serb brutality a "vicious and systematic campaign of ethnic cleansing."
"Once again, a civilian population is being made to pay the price for an unresolved political dispute," he said.
NATO said that reportedly, 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," NATO spokesman Jamie Shea said. "After they have left the villages, the homes are looted and then systematically torched."
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."
Yugoslav officials say the ethnic Albanian refugees fleeing Kosovo have been driven out by fighting between the Kosovo Liberation Army and Serbian forces, not by any offensive against civilians.
Zivadin Jovanovic, Yugoslavia's foreign minister, blamed NATO for "provoking our greatest humanitarian catastrophe."
NATO "committed a crime -- crime against peace, crime against humanity," Jovanovic said in an interview on CNN. "Forces of NATO are not invited, nor welcome (in Yugoslavia). They are committing a crime just because of a wrong policy of the United States."
It will take time for NATO 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 is 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.
The goal of Operation Allied Force is to damage the Yugoslav forces carrying out the "repressive activities," Bacon said.
"The principal impact we've had so far is to reduce their ability to sustain themselves, to reduce their supplies," Bacon said. "We are now beginning to focus more on the troops on the ground. That began last night with sustained attacks on their staging areas."
It will probably take time to see an effect, he said.
"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."
CNN Senior White House Correspondent Wolf Blitzer contributed to this report.
NATO targets Yugoslav army, Serb police as Kosovo refugees flee
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