NATO defies Yugoslav cease-fire with more bombing
April 7, 1999
BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (CNN) -- NATO underlined its firm rejection of Yugoslav and Serb offers of a cease-fire with a series of intense bombing attacks in the Belgrade area and elsewhere Wednesday.
Serbian television reported several cities came under attack by NATO within hours of the cease-fire announcement. An explosion jolted Novi Sad, Yugoslavia's second largest city that has come under heavy fire in recent days.
CNN's Brent Sadler said targets on the outskirts of Belgrade's city center were struck, including an area around the Yugoslav capital's main airport Surcin.
Serbian TV said targets in Pancevo, a city in north-central Serbia on the Danube River opposite Belgrade, were hit.
Serbian television also said a military chemical factory in the central Serb town of Lucani, about 110 miles southwest of Belgrade, was struck and that there were casualties. The report said missiles damaged a nearby school, a monastery and other civilian facilities.
Targets southwest of Pristina, the Kosovo capital, were hit in an area heavily populated by ethnic Albanians, Serb TV said claiming civilian casualties. There was no independent confirmation on the reports.
In Montenegro, CNN's Mike Hanna reported a loud explosion to the south of the capital city of Podgorica, followed by two secondary explosions and eruptions of tracer fire to the southeast.
A senior NATO official told CNN there were no NATO strikes designated for Podgorica during the raids. He speculated that if there were explosions it could have come from a downed missile, or something else.
More U.S. fighters into the fray
CNN's Martin Savidge said that for the first time since Operation Allied Force began, fighter jets from the USS Theodore Roosevelt joined the air raids. The carrier arrived in the region Monday with more than 80 aircraft and a crew of more than 5,500.
Reporting from a nearby warship, Savidge said waves of planes -- including F-14s, F-18s and special electronic warplanes designed to interfere or strike radar or anti-aircraft installations -- took off from the Roosevelt at a rate of "one every 30 seconds."
Two hours later, the first of the fighters began to return.
Belgrade officials earlier announced they would stop military action in Kosovo "from now to the reaching of a long lasting peaceful solution."
"On the occasion of the biggest Christian holiday Easter, all actions by army and police in Kosovo and Metohija against the terrorist organization, the Kosovo Liberation Army, cease unilaterally on April 6, 1999, at 20:00 hours (2 p.m. EDT)," a message on the Serbian Information Ministry Web site says.
The announcement was made Tuesday as NATO launched daylight strikes under clear skies against Serb Army tanks and artillery, meeting with "encouraging results." In addition, NATO officials said with the clear weather, the bombing that hit dozens of targets overnight would likely intensify.
Earlier, Yugoslav Foreign Ministry spokesman Nebojsa Vujovic said his government had agreed to cease military activity against what he called "separatist and terrorist organizations" in Kosovo and was drafting a plan for the return of "displaced persons and refugees."
But NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana responded: "The unilateral cease-fire proposed by the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the government of Serbia is clearly insufficient."
Solana said Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic must "meet the demands established by the international community": the safe return of hundreds of thousands of displaced Kosovar Albanians; the acceptance of a NATO-led international peacekeeping force in Kosovo; the withdrawal of Yugoslav forces, Serb police and paramilitary from the region; and the agreement to a political framework for Kosovo on the basis of the Rambouillet accords.
"NATO's current military action against (Yugoslavia) is in support of the political aims of the international community: a political, multi-ethnic democratic Kosovo in which all its people live in security," Solana said.
U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen arrived in Brussels early Wednesday for meetings with Solana, NATO Supreme Military Commander Gen. Wesley Clark and defense officials from other countries.
On Thursday , Cohen is expected to travel to Aviano Air Base in Italy -- a key staging post for U.S. air attacks on Yugoslavia.
Human shield fears
Meanwhile, CNN has confirmed that the Yugoslav army has closed the key entry point into Albania, effectively locking thousands of ethnic Albanian Kosovars inside Yugoslavia.
The city of Morina has been the main entry point to Albania for over 200,000 Kosovoars in the last two weeks who say they were forced from their homes by Serb-led Yugoslav forces.
It was not immediately clear whether those left on the Yugoslav side of the border would be allowed to remain along the frontier.
Also, the Macedonian government reported tens of thousands of Kosovar Albanian refugees stuck at its border were being turned back by Serbian authorities and told to return to their villages.
Macedonian officials said the refugees were being forced by the Serbs to turn back. Humanitarian relief officials expressed concern the refugees might be used as human shields to discourage NATO bombing.
The reported forcible turnaround of the refugees could not be independently verified but other sources in contact with the Kosovar Albanians supported the account offered by Macedonian officials.
In all, an estimated 120,000 Kosovars are now in Macedonia, with tens of thousands more backed up at the Blace checkpoint. Other refugees have crossed into Montenegro.
Refugee officials estimate 1.1 million Kosovar Albanians out of a total population of 1.8 million have been displaced by Yugoslav forces and Serbian police.
Widespread skepticism on cease-fire
The White House said the cease-fire announcement would not stop the NATO bombing campaign.
"We're not interested in half measures or hollow gestures," said press secretary Joe Lockhart.
The U.S. also hardened its line against Belgrade by barring Yugoslav ships from U.S. ports and territorial waters until further notice.
U.S. Customs officials told CNN an executive order was signed Monday and that it is believed no Yugoslav ships remain in U.S. ports.
National Security Council spokesman David Leavy said the order was designed to economically isolate the government of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and also was a precaution against spying or sabotage.
The executive order applies to ships flying the Yugoslav flag or considered to be under the control of the Yugoslav government.
French President Jacques Chirac said the Yugoslav proposal for a cease-fire fell far short of international demands -- and he condemned Milosevic's offensive in Kosovo.
"The actions carried out by Milosevic will not triumph," Chirac said. "Barbarism cannot have the last word. Justice must really win in the end, and the criminals will have to defend themselves."
In Moscow, officials called the cease-fire a positive step that could help end the suffering in Yugoslavia.
"Any peaceful initiative is beneficial," said Dmitry Yakushkin, a spokesman for Russian President Boris Yeltsin.
In Geneva, during an international humanitarian conference on the Kosovo crisis, Yugoslav Ambassador Branko Brankovic lashed out at the international community and issued a stern warning should NATO send in ground troops.
"In case any single soldier wants to put a foot on a single inch on my country, Vietnam is going to be zero compared to what all those who dare will face," he said.
With NATO ratcheting up its campaign against Yugoslav forces, alliance military spokesman Air Commodore David Wilby admitted that in the most intense night of bombing so far NATO bombs may have hit civilian buildings by mistake, killing several people.
Two large explosions tore through two apartment houses overnight and what appeared to be civilian homes in the town of Aleksinac, about 100 miles south of Belgrade.
Wilby conceded it is likely NATO bombs missed their target hitting the civilian apartment blocks. "It is possible such a rare fault may have occurred," he said adding there are indications that bombs aimed at an army barracks fell "600 meters short of the target."
He said even if the bombs were correctly targeted that a "guidance fault" or enemy fire may have led to a failure.
"Whatever the reason any unintended damage to civilian property or loss of life is very much regretted," he said.
Correspondents Brent Sadler, Christiane Amanpour, John King and Carl Rochelle contributed to this report.
NATO rejects cease-fire, resumes bombing Yugoslavia
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