NATO set to airlift 100,000 refugees

Stranded Kosovars would go temporarily to member nations

U.S. would take in 20,000

War In Yugoslavia

April 05, 1999|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- The NATO alliance offered yesterday to assume responsibility for the hundreds of thousands of Kosovar refugees, announcing that it would coordinate an airlift by its member nations to bring in supplies and take out almost 100,000 people to temporary shelter on U.S. and European territory.

On the other end of what has become a two-front conflict between NATO and Yugoslavia, the allies sought to take advantage of a break in the weather by stepping up the bombardment that is beginning to inflict serious damage in the Serbian heartland. Allied spokesmen said the pace of air assaults would dramatically increase in coming days, after an initial phase in which only 15 percent of the military flights were bombing runs.

With the flood of refugees exceeding 350,000 since the bombing began March 24, according to United Nations figures, NATO mounted emergency relief efforts in Macedonia and Albania, where the tide of hungry and desperate refugees has overwhelmed aid workers.

The alliance was sending 6,000 to 8,000 troops into Albania to help with refugees there and redirecting the 10,000 soldiers in Macedonia who had been intended for a peacekeeping mission in Kosovo. Of the refugees who will be brought by the allies, the United States planned to take in about 20,000, but to house them in Guam or at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, temporarily, not in the continental United States.

The rest were destined for temporary camps in Germany, Turkey and other European countries in the alliance.

Battle plan

On the 50th anniversary of the founding of NATO, the refugee crisis has become inextricably woven into the allies' military strategy after NATO failed to predict the ferocity of the Yugoslav drive through Kosovo and committed itself to weeks of bombing and no ground forces.

The battle plan is intended to limit allied casualties, but prolongs the fight against Yugoslav forces and with it, the plight of the refugees.

Gen. Wesley K. Clark, NATO's supreme commander, charged this weekend that the flood of refugees was part of a deliberate strategy by Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to destabilize the Balkans and force the allied governments to deal with humanitarian instead of military issues.

"It is a calculated, deliberate, arranged, preplanned humanitarian catastrophe," he told a small group of reporters Saturday at the alliance's military headquarters in Brussels, Belgium. "It serves two purposes. Not only does it change the demographics in Kosovo, but it helps to destabilize Macedonia."

Although NATO's eventual goal is to return the refugees to Kosovo, the prospects for doing so in the near future are bleak. NATO acknowledges that its air campaign has had little effect in stemming the Yugoslav effort to evict ethnic Albanians from Kosovo.

The alliance's military goal, NATO officials said, is to do so much damage to the Yugoslav military and to institutions propping up the Milosevic government that Belgrade would ultimately agree to a political settlement for Kosovo or, at least, withdraw its military forces from the province so the refugees could return under NATO protection.

NATO's protracted timetable, however, means that hundreds of thousands of refugees must be taken care of in the meantime, and it was this escalating problem that preoccupied the alliance yesterday.

NATO spokesman Jamie Shea announced that Germany had agreed to temporarily resettle 40,000 of the refugees. In addition to the United States' commitment, Turkey will accept 20,000, Norway will take 6,000, and Canada and Greece each will take 5,000.

As refugees streamed out of Kosovo by the tens of thousands, it has been impossible to make an exact count. But everyone agrees that the problem is immense.

According to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, about 350,000 of Kosovo's 1.8 million ethnic Albanians have fled across the borders of Albania and Macedonia since the bombing began.

NATO puts the number a bit higher, at about 374,000. Another 60,000 refugees were trapped in a "no man's land" in southern Kosovo, near Albania and Macedonia. Many of them have been without food for two days, Shea said.

Refugee resettlement

The U.N. body had asked NATO to help by airlifting supplies, setting up refugee camps and resettling refugees. Yesterday, NATO offered to take the lead in coordinating the humanitarian assistance.

In addition to the 6,000 to 8,000 troops the alliance is sending into Albania, the NATO commander in Macedonia, Lt. Gen. Sir Michael Jackson of Britain, has been ordered to mount a refugee assistance effort there with his 10,000 troops. Yesterday, he had his soldiers rushing food and water to the refugees near the border.

Jackson's force plans to build tent cities for refugees, three of which are already partly operational. The ultimate goal is to provide accommodations for 20,000 refugees. So far, 3,500 refugees are living in these tent cities.

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