NATO monitors Yugoslav withdrawal from southern zone as deadline nears
June 15, 1999
KACANIK, Yugoslavia (CNN) -- With NATO peacekeepers surging further into Kosovo, the alliance Tuesday was continuing to monitor Yugoslav forces to see if the troops make a midnight deadline to withdraw from a southern zone of the war-torn province.
Under terms outlined last week, Yugoslav military leaders agreed to fully withdraw its forces from an area designated as Zone 1 by midnight Tuesday, or Day Six of the entire withdrawal.
The zone stretches across the southern border of the province, but juts to the north at one point to include Pristina, the Kosovo capital. It includes parts of the U.S., British, German and Italian operational sectors that each country is to monitor.
The commander of NATO's peacekeepers, British Gen. Mike Jackson, on Monday said the deployment of the NATO peacekeeping force was on schedule even while "the situation remains volatile."
Yugoslav forces were still seen throughout Kosovo but most were showing signs of withdrawing -- while some ethnic Albanian refugees were beginning to head back into Kosovo, despite urgings from aid agencies to wait until security has tightened.
NATO peacekeepers Monday guarded suspected mass graves in Kosovo where freshly turned earth and wooden stakes marked the burials of dozens of ethnic Albanians clubbed and shot to death by Serb police, residents said.
Elsewhere, columns of vehicles carrying Yugoslav troops and Kosovar Serbs rumbled out of Kosovo -- including some who ran a gantlet of angry Kosovar Albanians who pelted the cars and trucks with rocks, verbal insults and vulgar gestures.
For the first time since the conflict began March 24, badly needed humanitarian aid was delivered to displaced Kosovars near Pristina.
Serb paramilitary forces had not left the area but did not interfere as aid workers handed out wheat, flour, oil, baby formula, blankets and bottled water to 25,000 ethnic Albanians who came out of the hills.
"They don't have the basic necessities, let alone medical supplies, schooling, everything that we take for granted," U.N. envoy Dennis McNamara told CNN. "We can turn it around quickly, as I said, provided the environment is conducive to that."
Military and political leaders worked to break an impasse over 200 Russian soldiers occupying the Pristina airport where the 19-member military alliance had planned to set up its headquarters.
U.S. President Clinton and Russian President Boris Yeltsin spoke for a second straight day, while NATO leaders downplayed the situation at the airport. Jackson said holding the airport "is not important to me" and that a temporary KFOR headquarters had been set up west of Pristina.
In Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said she and Defense Secretary William Cohen would meet with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev in Helsinki, Finland in the coming days.
That announcement was made after Clinton and Yeltsin spoke by phone.
Jackson said he was in discussions with Russian Gen. Viktor Zavarzin about the role of 200 Russian troops occupying the Pristina air field and said he looked forward to "assimilating the Russians into KFOR."
He said he considered their surprise arrival Friday a "political matter currently being dealt with between the capitals involved."
Russian generals said paratroopers and infantry soldiers were ready to go to Kosovo when the political decision is made to send them. Russian commanders said that decision had not been made and no air corridor to move its peacekeepers had been secured.
However, the Pentagon said about 30 Russian troops along with about 15 vehicles were assembling in Bosnia for a re-supply mission to Kosovo. Russian officers said they would be taking food, fuel, water and communications equipment to their fellow soldiers at the Pristina airport.
"They are likely to be resupplied at some point because they are running out of supplies," said Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon. He said that would probably happen in the next few days.
More than 14,000 NATO troops have been deployed so far with more on the way. No NATO troops had been killed, Jackson said, although two Serbs had been killed by NATO troops. Jackson originally said three German journalists were killed by sniper fire, but later German officials said only two journalists had been killed.
Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic appeared in public for the first time since the NATO airstrikes began, standing in front of a destroyed bridge and delivering a rousing nationalist speech to a crowd of cheering Serbs.
"Eleven of the hardest weeks since the Second World War are behind us," he said. "In those 11 weeks we experienced a most brutal aggression against our country by the biggest force that ever existed on Earth."
He said Yugoslavia "managed to get guarantees for territorial integrity and sovereignty from the United Nations and all the problems which are still open in this southern province are being resolved under the supervision of the United Nations."
Near the town of Kacanik on the Skopje-Pristina Road in southern Kosovo, U.S. forces, including 1,200 Marines, moved into the area and took over guarding the site of suspected mass graves, where commanders said about 100 graves were believed to be at the site.
Wooden stakes with hand-written numbers on them dotted the hillside and flowers were placed at the foot of the apparent wooden, makeshift tombstones.
Local residents and KLA members said the graves contained mostly elderly men clubbed or shot to death on April 9 by Serb special police, CNN's Christiane Amanpour reported. The area has been cordoned off pending the arrival of forensic experts.
British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said it was important for the international community to gather evidence of war crimes so that those responsible could be punished.
"We must record the evidence to the war crimes that have been committed in Kosovo to enforce it's ethnic cleansing," Cook told Parliament. "There has already been horrific discovery of mass graves containing a large number of villagers massacred in Kacanik."
In Prizren, about 400 cars, trucks and buses carried the city's Serbs out of town and eventually out of Kosovo. The Serbs said they fear retribution from the returning refugees and the displaced Kosovar Albanians.
A mob of ethnic Albanians tossed rocks and shouted insults as the convoy rolled by. When the Serbs left, a few Kosovar Albanians looted Serb shops and restaurants.
Their anger vented, hundreds of ethnic Albanians turned to celebration and flooded the streets of Kosovo's second largest city. Many clapped and chanted pro-NATO slogans.
"Now we celebrate all night," one man said.
In the small village of Glogovac, about 18 miles (30 km) west of Pristina, the group of 25,000 displaced people descended from the hills as humanitarian aid arrived and appeared for the first time in more than 11 weeks of hiding.
The group was part of hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanians who took shelter in villages and forests after they said they were driven from their towns by Yugoslav forces.
Although in reasonably good physical condition, they were living on corn and little else. Many appeared exhausted and thin. Some are in serious need of medical help.
The World Food Program and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees brought five large trucks of supplies that included the wheat, flour and other much-sought relief.
NATO gains ground as Serb convoys roll out of Kosovo
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