Allies reject cease-fire offer by Milosevic as insufficient

Yugoslav president must withdraw forces in Kosovo, NATO says

Allies expand airstrikes

Carrier-based planes join attack

Serbian targets prove elusive

April 07, 1999|By Tom Bowman and Mark Matthews | Tom Bowman and Mark Matthews,Sun National Staff

WASHINGTON -- President Clinton and NATO leaders yesterday rejected a unilateral cease-fire from Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic as insufficient, while the allied bombing campaign expanded to include aircraft strikes from the USS Theodore Roosevelt.

But, despite the long-awaited clear weather over Yugoslavia, allied pilots still had trouble targeting Serbian army and police units battling rebel forces and attacking civilians in Kosovo.

The Serbian forces were hiding in the dense forests or were shielded by civilians in the towns and cities, military officials said.

Also yesterday, the allies apologized for an errant 500-pound bomb dropped by a U.S. warplane that fell short of its target and slammed into an apartment building in Aleksinac, 100 miles southeast of Belgrade.

Yugoslav officials said the attack killed seven civilians and injured dozens. British Air Commodore David J. G. Wilby, a NATO spokesman, said the bomb was targeted for a military facility housing an artillery brigade.

Milosevic said the cease-fire would begin at 8 Belgrade time last night in observance of Orthodox Easter. Minutes after the cease-fire took effect, air raid sirens sounded in Belgrade and explosions could be heard.

Clinton said the cease-fire did not go far enough.

"Mr. Milosevic could end it now by withdrawing his military police and paramilitary forces" from Kosovo, the president said.

He also said Milosevic must accept the deployment of an international security force to protect not only the largely Muslim Kosovar Albanians but also the Serbian minority in Kosovo.

Clinton reiterated the other allied goals: the return of refugees and a "move toward a politicalframework" based on the agreements reached last month in France, which granted limited autonomy to the Kosovars.

Defense Secretary William S. Cohen said the Serbian cease-fire idea was "not only completely unacceptable, but it's absurd."

Acceptance of a cease-fire now would amount to "abdication of responsibility" by NATO, Cohen said during a Voice of America interview.

But the cease-fire offer appeared to open a crack in the NATO alliance. The prime minister of Greece, which has refused to participate in the war, called it "a first step."

NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana was mild in his criticism, calling the Yugoslav offer "clearly insufficient."

The Vatican greeted the cease-fire as a "sign of peace" and again urged NATO to halt its airstrikes.

Russia also welcomed it. "Any peace initiative must be useful," spokesman Dmitry Yakushkin quoted President Boris N. Yeltsin as saying.

Earlier yesterday, Vice President Al Gore held a 40-minute conversation with Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny M. Primakov, who has harshly criticized the bombing campaign. The two agreed to avoid letting the rift harm U.S.-Russian relations.

The United States and other Western allies will try to gain more cooperation from Russia today during a meeting of the six-nation Contact Group, which sponsored the French peace talks.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair's office responded that the Yugoslav declaration "doesn't go nearly far enough."

The cease-fire came as the Clinton administration offered an early glimpse of what could be an eventual settlement over Kosovo.

While Joe Lockhart, the White House spokesman, said agreement with Milosevic would be required before ground forces are introduced into Kosovo as peacekeepers, Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright held out the possibility of something short of that, saying only that a signed deal "is the best way to go."

She also said the people of Kosovo should have self-government "and for the Serbs to be able, in some way, to have their holy places protected and accessible."

The stepped-up bombing campaign showed "good results" against some 30 targets, "a broad range throughout Yugoslavia," from bridges, air defense radars and communications to airfields, police headquarters and more petroleum facilities, said Wilby.

"We also continued our attacks against Serbian fielded forces," the NATO spokesman said. " Despite good weather, although our attacks have restricted the units from combat duties, we had not achieved the level of damage on these forces that we would have liked."

Instead, the attacks have centered on what is sustaining the Serbian forces: fuel, supply depots and headquarters.

A NATO military officer said the Serbian units, some 40,000 army and more than 14,000 special police, have dispersed throughout Kosovo and "are hiding pretty well."

Besides using dense forests as cover, they are hiding in urban areas and parking their tanks and armor in garages and buildings.

Said Wilby, "We are continually adapting our tactics to resolve this frustrating situation."

The Serbian army and special police armored brigades are still fighting some of the last remnants of the Kosovo Liberation Army in the southwestern portion of the province between Pec and Dakovica and along the Albanian border, NATO officials said.

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