NATO steps up campaign; civilian casualties reported
April 6, 1999
BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (CNN) -- NATO attacked targets across Yugoslavia late Monday and early Tuesday in a stepped up campaign to destroy troops, tanks and supply lines designed to choke off the Yugoslav "ethnic cleansing" offensive in Kosovo.
Two large explosions early Tuesday tore through apartment blocks and what appeared to be civilian homes in the town of Aleksinac, about 100 miles south of Belgrade.
And CNN's Brent Sadler is reporting that at least four people were killed and a medical clinic used by civilians was hit.
Reporting from the scene, Sadler said elderly men and women were casualties -- and that one woman described saving two of her children while having to leave other family members beneath rubble. Fire crews were trying to put out blazes at gutted apartment blocks, Sadler said.
"I think what I'm seeing here is the largest civilian casualty toll since the beginning of NATO airstrikes," Sadler said. "I saw quite clearly that these were civilian homes. ... I saw body parts inside these buildings."
In Belgrade, a loud explosion jolted the Yugoslav capital in the early hours Tuesday, CNN's Alessio Vinci said.
In Novi Sad, Yugoslavia's second largest city about 50 miles north of Belgrade, Serbian television showed a bright orange fireball light up the nighttime sky and flames rose hundreds of feet into the air around 10 p.m. local time (4 p.m. ET). Serb TV reported the bombing of an oil refinery in Novi Sad.
NATO attacks have struck at least two bridges in the city in recent days to cut supply lines to Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's forces in Kosovo.
Serbian TV claimed two NATO planes were shot down over Novi Sad, but NATO said all planes that were due back have returned.
Serbian TV also said targets in other cities -- Sombor, about 95 miles northwest of Belgrade near the Danube River, and Nis, about 125 miles southeast of the Yugoslav capital -- came under attack. Pentagon officials said attacks were under way, but wouldn't comment on specific targets.
Earlier, NATO military commanders said clear skies in Yugoslavia were allowing the 19-member military alliance to ratchet up its campaign to destroy Milosevic's military machine.
Air Commodore David Wilby said there is "direct evidence we are causing pain" to Yugoslav forces and Serb police in and around Kosovo.
President Clinton pledged to press on with "undiminished, unceasing and unrelenting" air strikes against Yugoslavia if Milosevic continues to rebuff Western demands.
For the bombings to stop, Clinton said Milosevic must withdraw his troops from Kosovo, agree to allow NATO peacekeepers into the province, accept an interim peace deal that gives Kosovo autonomy and allow the hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanians who have fled the region to return.
He described Milosevic as a leader who "would rather rule over rubble than not rule at all."
U.S. intelligence sources said they are picking up indications Milosevic may announce a unilateral cease-fire in Kosovo and possibly a partial troop withdrawal as early as this week.
Clinton was pre-emptively warning those two steps alone won't be enough to stop the NATO bombing.
"We are prepared to sustain this effort for the long haul. Our plan is to persist until we prevail," he said.
Vladislav Javonovic, the Yugoslav Charge d'Affaires to the U.N., told CNN's "Larry King Live" that Belgrade was ready to offer Kosovar Albanians "a very impressive, substantial autonomy ... and, of course, safe return."
The exodus of Kosovar Albanians continued to stream out of the province Monday, and NATO intensified aid efforts to help out the hundreds of thousands of refugees, saying the alliance is rushing to fly thousands of pounds of food and supplies to Albania and Macedonia.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said nearly 400,000 refugees have fled Kosovo since March 24. An estimated 831,000 of the 1.8 million ethnic Albanian population of Kosovo, many of them still on the move inside the province, have been displaced from their homes.
A number of NATO nations have said they will temporarily house refugees flooding out of the province. Germany pledged to accept 40,000; Turkey 26,000; the United States 20,000; Sweden 15,000. Norway, Greece and Canada also announced they will take in refugees.
By day's end, the first group of about 150 Kosovo refugees arrived in Corlu, Turkey. Refugees also arrived in Norway.
"The ethnic cleansing of Kosovo cannot stand as a permanent event," Clinton said. "Our immediate goal is to provide relief. Our long-term goal is to give them their right to return."
In New York, actors, playwrights and musicians gathered at the Helen Hayes Theatre Monday to raise money for Kosovo refugees and call for the intervention of the United Nations to end the conflict in the Balkans.
Audience members paid $10 to listen as actors Vanessa Redgrave, Tim Robbins, Betty Buckley and others read heart-wrenching e-mail from anti-war Serb pacifists in Belgrade and Kosovars in Kosovo.
The benefit was organized by Madre, an international women's human rights organization. Madre denounces the NATO bombing as a way to end the ethnic cleansing policy of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.
British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook bluntly warned Milosevic to lay off Kosovo.
"Don't bother offering peace unless you are prepared to reverse the ethnic cleansing of the war," Cook said. "Peace in Kosovo without the population of Kosovo would be a hollow mockery."
According to classified Pentagon assessments, it could take just five more days for the Yugoslav army to empty Kosovo of ethnic Albanians. U.S. intelligence reports say the remnants of the Kosovo Liberation Army has been pushed into the mountains bordering Albania and its fighting capability "rapidly evaporating."
Asked what will happen if Yugoslav forces and Serb paramilitaries drive out the entire Kosovar Albanian population, Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon said, "It will be much easier to attack them."
Bacon said imagery of Kosovo from U.S. spy satellites appears to support allegations of atrocities in the region. He said one image shows a group of tanks and armored personnel carriers in a semi-circle surrounding civilians.
"What it does prove is that people are being herded or contained by military units," he said.
The Pentagon also said the U.S. aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt has arrived in the Adriatic Sea and will be ready for the next round of strikes Tuesday.
The Roosevelt's arrival comes ahead of more firepower being deployed to the region to attack Yugoslav troops and tanks, including 24 Apache attack helicopters and 18 sophisticated missile systems known as ATACMs.
"We are now getting our tactics right," Air Commodore Wilby said. "We are taking the fight to them very hard."
Pentagon says soldiers to be considered POWs
The Yugoslav government considers the three U.S. Army soldiers captured near the Yugoslav-Macedonia border to be prisoners of war and will release them "at the end of the hostilities," the Pentagon said Monday.
Belgrade also has assured the soldiers will not be tried and will be treated under international laws outlined in the Geneva Conventions.
"The encouraging thing is, that after a couple of days, the Yugoslav government has announced that they will be treated as POWs," Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon said.
"They will be released at the end of the hostilities and that they will not be tried," he said.
Meanwhile, the Serbian paramilitary leader known as Arkan on Monday promised he would do everything he could to secure the release of the soldiers captured by Yugoslavia last week.
Arkan, who has been indicted for war crimes by the U.N. tribunal in The Hague, told CNN affiliate WJLA-TV in Washington that the three soldiers were being "well-treated."
"I know it worries you and ... lots of people in Yugoslavia want to see them free. We want to show our goodwill to the world.
The soldiers -- Staff Sgt. Andrew Ramirez, 24, of Los Angeles; Staff Sgt. Christopher J. Stone, 25, of Smiths Creek, Michigan; and Spec. Steven Gonzales, 21, of Huntsville, Texas -- were taken into custody last Wednesday as they patrolled the Macedonia-Kosovo border.
"I will give everything I can and all my influence I can to see those three brave American soldiers free. I said brave because the one who had all the marks on his face (Stone) -- I don't know his name exactly. He was fighting. He didn't want to surrender, and I think he's a great soldier.
Arkan, whose real name is Zeljko Raznjatovic, said none of his Tiger paramilitary troops were active in Kosovo, but he vowed to order them to the southern Serbian province if NATO deployed group troops there.
"My identity and the identity of all the Serbs starts in Kosovo. We can't let Kosovo just like that go away. No one Serb will leave Kosovo. We will fight until the last man for Kosovo.
"We are defending our freedom. We are defending our land. We are defending our children and our lives."
Airstrikes hit home in a small Serbian town
Extensive list of Kosovo-related sites
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