New waves of refugees flee Kosovo

100,000 Albanians head to overburdened Macedonia, Albania

Allied airstrikes intensify

Clinton is expected to activate reserve, National Guard units

War In Yugoslavia

April 17, 1999|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Amid reports of new Serb atrocities, upward of 100,000 new refugees might be headed into Albania and Macedonia from Kosovo in coming days, further straining already overburdened allied efforts to house and feed the ethnic Albanians, officials said yesterday.

It is the largest movement of refugees in more than a week, said officials with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), who noted that more villages are reported burning and young men still are being separated from the refugee streams by Serbian army troops and police units.

Moreover, the State Department said there is new evidence of mass killings and graves west of Kosovo's capital, Pristina.

Spokesman James P. Rubin had no specifics on the number but said it was more than a few dozen. The location is different from the site of mass graves that were reported last week, he said.

An estimated 250,000 to 750,000 refugees remain inside Kosovo, and tens of thousands face sickness and possible starvation, according to intelligence reports.

NATO is attempting to come up with relief plans to funnel food and medicine into the Serbian province, said Pentagon spokesman Kenneth H. Bacon.

Last night, NATO aircraft attacked oil refineries, military barracks and airports in Kosovo, Montenegro and the Yugoslav capital.

It was one of the most intense rounds of airstrikes in more than three weeks of bombing.

Slatina, the main Kosovo airport just outside Pristina, was hit last night for the fifth time, said the state news agency, Tanjug.

Also targeted in evening strikes were Mounts Butovac and Goles, northeast and south of Pristina, Tanjug said.

NATO has been targeting mountaintop transmitters.

The Lipljan municipality south of the city also was hit, the news agency said.

Troop call-up expected

In other Kosovo-related developments:

President Clinton is expected to give formal approval early next week to a Pentagon request to call up as many as 33,000 National Guard and Reserve troops to take part in the Balkans operation, Pentagon officials confirmed.

Most are expected to be Air Force pilots and crews.

It would be the largest call-up since the 1991 Persian Gulf war, when more than 200,000 reservists were activated.

Officials have not said which units would be called.

The Maryland Air National Guard has a unit at Martin State Airport, which includes eight C-130 cargo planes and 17 A-10 Thunderbolt II combat jets, known as anti-tank "Warthogs."

Pentagon officials said a low-ranking Serbian military officer was captured Wednesday by the Kosovo Liberation Army at Junik and was transferred yesterday to U.S. military officials in Tirana, Albania.

He is being treated as a prisoner of war.

NATO officials said they are still investigating the attack by a U.S. Air Force F-16 jet on a civilian vehicle in western Kosovo, but now believe the civilian vehicle was likely a tractor.

Officials said the pilot thought he was striking 2 1/2-ton trucks in a Serbian military convoy.

There was no NATO confirmation of the number of casualties, though Serbian officials said 75 were killed.

Inside Kosovo, Pentagon intelligence reports indicate that more than 150,000 displaced people may be at or near starvation.

Earlier this week, Gen. Henry H. Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had said that refugees leaving Kosovo reported no food or medical shortages.

Still, some refugees heading into the bordering countries of Albania and Macedonia are reporting disease and starvation, a U.S. official said. While NATO and Pentagon officials said they were looking into the relief issue for refugees inside Kosovo, there has been no decision on how to proceed.

"Each one of these options has real difficulties with it," Bacon said, "which is one of the reasons NATO hasn't been able to focus in and adopt any one of these plans."

Airdrops are seen as dangerous to pilots and potentially ineffective, because Serbian forces might seize some or all of the aid and prevent it from reaching refugees.

Overland corridor unlikely

Creating a corridor to bring in aid overland would require ground troops -- thus far barred by NATO. "I think that the corridor is unlikely to be the option they choose," Bacon said.

A senior Pentagon official working on the issue said a major concern is the inability of NATO forces to guarantee the safety of relief workers in the war zone.

"The Serbs aren't being too compliant about plans to help the Kosovar refugees they are trying to exterminate," Bacon noted.

A Greek doctor, who helped to organize an aid convoy through the Greek chapter of the French-based Doctors of the World, said yesterday that a three-truck convoy with food and medical supplies has passed into Kosovo on its way to a hospital in Pristina.

Delay at the border

The convoy and three doctors passed through Macedonia and then into Kosovo.

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