NATO to drop food into Kosovo
June 9, 1999
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Yugoslavia's signed agreement with NATO on Wednesday paves the way for the return of more than 860,000 Kosovo refugees to the war-torn province.
But one of NATO's first priorities -- once the Serb troop withdrawal is verified -- will be to organize air drops of food to hundreds of thousands of displaced ethnic Albanians inside Kosovo.
"The immediate concern and focus has to be on saving the lives of those people who are displaced. It will be a cruel irony for people to die of starvation once a peace agreement is signed," said Mark Bartolini of the International Rescue Committee.
U.S. Secretary of Defense William Cohen said Wednesday that there was no immediate timetable on the refugees' return.
Before any refugees return to the province, NATO peacekeepers must remove unexploded ordnance, as well as Serb land mines and booby traps.
The agreement signed Wednesday gives the Yugoslav government 48 hours to hand over all records indicating the placement of explosive devices.
But NATO is likely to face a tough task in convincing refugees not to head home for a couple of weeks.
"As much as we hate it, I'm afraid we're going to see some accidents with civilians stepping on a mine," said Panos Moumtzis of the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.
NATO: Serb looting continues
In major towns like Pristina, key issues will be getting the water supply and electricity back up and running and helping ethnic Albanians repair and rebuild their homes in time for winter.
NATO says the Serbs continue to make the situation in Kosovo more difficult.
"We have more reasoned and credible reports that looting in Pristina and the area is still ongoing," including the destruction of windows and doors in homes, said NATO military spokesman Gen. Walter Jertz.
To help repair the damage, NATO has included $10 million worth of door and window frames in its humanitarian stockpile.
As word of the peace agreement reached Pristina on Wednesday, CNN's Jim Clancy reported that Serb troops reacted to the announcement by firing wildly into the air.
"We have a situation here where the news just rippled across the city and now anti-aircraft artillery, AK-47s, heavy machine guns and just about everything else is opening up here," Clancy said.
"It is a somewhat dangerous situation."
Correspondents David Ensor and Jim Clancy contributed to this report.
Yugoslavia agrees to withdraw Serb forces from Kosovo
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