Week 4 begins; NATO warns attacks could continue for months
April 14, 1999
BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (CNN) -- As NATO investigated Serb claims that allied bombs hit convoys of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, NATO planes struck targets in Yugoslavia early Thursday, marking the start of a fourth week of airstrikes.
It also showed video of damage to the Belgrade suburb of Rakovica.
U.S. officials suggested that unless Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic withdraws his forces from Kosovo and allows a NATO-led force into the province, the military campaign may last for months.
Yugoslav officials accused NATO of bombing two convoys of ethnic Albanians in southwestern Kosovo on Wednesday, killing as many as 85 people. They said three planes dropped bombs on hundreds of displaced Kosovars riding tractors and cars on their way to Albania.
Yugoslav Foreign Ministry spokesman Nebojsa Vujovic told CNN that about 60 civilians were killed in one column and 25 died in another column. He said another 25 people were wounded.
NATO said it was investigating the incident. It said its pilots had targeted only military vehicles in the area. The Pentagon cited reports from refugees arriving in Albania who claimed that Serb aircraft had attacked their convoy.
In Brussels, European Union leaders supported a U.N. peace initiative for Kosovo on Wednesday, but they repeated that NATO's bombing campaign would stop only when Belgrade meets the alliance's key demands.
Those include an immediate end to the use of violence in Kosovo; the withdrawal of all Serb forces from the province; the deployment of an international security force; and the safe return of all refugees.
"It is up to the Yugoslav authorities to fully accept the international demands and begin immediately with their implementation," said German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.
Schroeder, current president of the 15-nation European Union, convened a special EU summit Wednesday to meet with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
"I came to listen and explore ways and means of intensifying the diplomatic efforts and try to achieve the objectives that have been set," Annan said after the meeting.
Reading a draft EU statement, Schroeder said Russia's contribution to the Kosovo peace effort was "indispensable."
Russia has strongly opposed the NATO air operation and has severed its relations with the alliance, which began launching airstrikes March 24 after Yugoslavia refused to halt its crackdown on ethnic Albanians in the Serbian province of Kosovo.
Russia was part of the six-nation Contact Group -- along with the United States, France, Britain, Germany and Italy -- that negotiated a peace agreement for Kosovo in Rambouillet, France, in February. That agreement was signed by the Kosovo Albanians, but rejected by the Serbs.
Germany has proposed a plan that calls for a 24-hour halt to NATO airstrikes to give Yugoslavia a chance to start withdrawing its forces from Kosovo.
NATO called the German plan a "food-for-thought paper," but did not immediately endorse it.
"It's a very useful and necessary effort to begin reflection on how we are going to handle the diplomacy of the endgame," said NATO spokesman Jamie Shea.
"We need to allow for the return of refugees, to allow for the deployment of international troops to protect the refugees and the population of Kosovo," said Schroeder.
NATO officials said Wednesday they were marshaling their forces for "the endgame" in their campaign against Yugoslavia.
"We will have more or less 1,000 aircraft on stream very soon -- able to maintain a continuous operation to tighten the screw on Serb forces," Shea said.
Milosevic "is becoming weaker as NATO is becoming stronger," Shea said. "It is no longer a question of if we will win, but simply when."
Both NATO and Russia, which has sharply criticized the bombings, have indicated they view Annan as a possible mediator. Belgrade described Annan's efforts as the "last chance" to peacefully settle the NATO-Yugoslavia standoff.
British Defense Secretary George Robertson told CNN that EU partners, most of whom also belong to NATO, planned to show they were still firmly committed to the NATO action.
"What will come out of today's summit will be the united resolve of European countries and all the NATO countries that (Yugoslav President Slobodan) Milosevic is going to be defeated," Robertson said.
The decision by Britain and the United States in recent days to commit more heavy weaponry and troops to the Balkans underlined "the rock solid unity of NATO," he said.
Shea said NATO's latest raids struck two more bridges and more military targets, including control facilities, fuel installations and lines of communications.
While Wednesday's raids were relatively light because of poor weather, Shea said, "We are neutralizing the weather factor" so that the bombings can continue "in thickest clouds and heaviest rain."
NATO also planned to launch Operation Allied Harbor on Wednesday, which aims to use NATO troops to help stabilize the refugee situation in Albania. An estimated 300,000 ethnic Albanians from Kosovo have poured into Albania during the past three weeks.
Milosevic said Wednesday that Yugoslavia was ready to accept international peacekeepers in Kosovo after a political solution was found, but said they would have to be unarmed and none could come from NATO countries.
He called the NATO campaign "a conspiracy of lies" and said the only way to end the conflict was through negotiations.
NATO officials say that Yugoslavia must agree to an armed NATO peacekeeping force before it will halt the bombing campaign.
Milosevic spoke during a Belgrade news conference after he met with visiting Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko for several hours.
The meeting was an apparent step toward cementing Milosevic's wish to join an alliance with fellow Orthodox Slav nation Belarus and its much larger neighbor Russia.
Serbian television on Wednesday reported NATO attacks on the Bistrica hydroelectric plant near the southern Serb town of Nova Varos, about 200 kilometers (125 miles) south of Belgrade. A nearby bridge on a main railroad line that runs from Belgrade to the Montenegrin port of Bar was lightly damaged, the report said.
Serbian TV said the largest factory in the town of Valjevo, about 112 kilometers (70 miles) southwest of Belgrade, was hit and at least two people were hurt. Four explosions were reported in the central Serb town of Pozega.
Serb authorities said the hard-hit south was preparing for the first food rationing since the airstrikes began on March 24.
Correspondents Brent Sadler and Jim Clancy contributed to his report.
NATO: Strikes 'grinding down' Yugoslav military
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