Proposal to engage military force in Kosovo OK'd by NATO officials Diplomats hope that plan will spur end to offensive

August 04, 1998|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON -- The United States announced yesterday that NATO has approved plans for the use of military force in the Kosovo crisis.

The announcement was intended to push President Slobodan Milosevic of Yugoslavia to end the offensive against ethnic Albanians in the Serbian province of Kosovo.

"NATO has now approved a range of contingency plans for the use of military force in this regard," the State Department spokesman, James Rubin, said yesterday, after U.S. diplomats said that Kosovo is "on the edge of a humanitarian catastrophe."

At a meeting last week, the North Atlantic Council, which consists of NATO member representatives, approved a set of options that are being turned into detailed military plans, so that NATO forces can act quickly, if required, senior U.S. and NATO-country officials said.

The planning centers on air power options, the officials said, rather than ground troops. The idea, one official said, is to make the potential use of force more realistic by keeping it more limited, and reducing the political cost.

"This doesn't mean we're closer to bombing Serbia Monday than we were a week ago," one NATO diplomat said. "But if Milosevic thinks he can get away with a high level of violence because NATO would only react to extreme violence, then NATO's ability to respond to different circumstances will be more subtle and refined."

Use of force would require a separate political decision by NATO countries, some of which have said they would prefer United Nations Security Council authorization first. Washington says NATO has legal authority to use force, if necessary, without any further U.N. action.

Yesterday, the United States, the European Union and NATO demanded a cease-fire in Kosovo as weekend fighting forced as many as 30,000 ethnic Albanians to flee their homes in the face of government attacks on their villages. As many as 180,000 people have been displaced since February, said officials of the U.N. high commissioner for refugees, in a province of about 2 million people that is 90 percent ethnic Albanian.

Last Friday, the Serbs said that their offensive against the Kosovo Liberation Army, the ethnic Albanian rebel group, and its supporters was over. "Their claims," said Rubin, "are obviously nonsense," describing significant military operations in at least three areas of Kosovo over the weekend.

Since late May, NATO has been drawing up military options for the Kosovo situation and warning Milosevic of those plans. In mid-June NATO fighter jets staged a fly-by over Kosovo to convince Milosevic to stop the fighting or suffer the consequences.

But as the rebels gained ground over the past several weeks, NATO officials signaled that they were reluctant to use military force because that could further help the rebels in their efforts to win independence from Serbia, which the West does not support.

In the past two weeks, the government launched a major offensive, and NATO planners have been trying to keep up with the changing situation in Kosovo.

The United States had been endeavoring to start negotiations between Milosevic and a unified team of ethnic Albanian leaders. But the rebel group itself has at least three regional commands and no clear political leadership and is dismissive of the major civilian leader in Kosovo.

Pub Date: 8/04/98

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