Heavy airstrikes unleased

Bridges, refineries hit as NATO intensifies three-week campaign

500 missions in 24 hours

Refugee crisis grow amid new reports of mass graves in Kosovo

War In Yugoslavia

April 19, 1999|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- NATO aircraft yesterday carried out their heaviest strikes in the three-week campaign against Yugoslavia as the refugee crisis continued to worsen. Tens of thousands of ethnic Albanians streamed out for neighboring countries, bearing wounds from shrapnel and beatings at the hands of Serbian forces, officials said.

There were also fresh reports that those left behind in Kosovo are being formed into chain gangs by Serbian troops and forced to dig mass graves for victims of Serbian "ethnic cleansing" in the province, NATO officials said.

David Scheffer, the U.S. ambassador at large for war crimes, said NATO's estimate that 3,200 civilians have been killed in Kosovo was "very low." Scheffer suggested that tens of thousands more civilians were at risk or had already perished, saying the fate of 100,000 ethnic Albanian men is unknown.

NATO said its warplanes flew more than 500 missions in a 24-hour period ending yesterday afternoon, pounding bridges, refineries -- including a plant in Pancevo, six miles north of Belgrade -- and dozens of other targets. The alliance said the operations, which targeted sites across Serbia and its Kosovo province, were "highly successful."

Ethnic Albanians continued to leave Kosovo yesterday. The U.N. high commissioner for refugees said a steady flow of more than 20,000 -- mostly women and children -- headed into Albania, and another 4,000 into Macedonia during the past two days. There are estimates that tens of thousands more are on the way.

"There doesn't seem to be any letup in the flow," said Jennifer Dean, a spokeswoman for the UNHCR, who said relief workers are desperately trying to expand shelters along the border in northern Albania and move the refugees farther south into the country. "It's hard to predict how many are on the way."

In another development, Yugoslavia broke diplomatic relations with Albania yesterday, accusing Tirana of siding with NATO in its fierce bombing campaign against Yugoslav targets, Albanian officials said.

Albania vowed to continue supporting the Western alliance against what it branded a "criminal regime" carrying out a policy of genocide against ethnic Albanians in Serbia's Kosovo province.

NATO probes attack

Meanwhile, a NATO military officer said officials are trying to piece together the alliance's mistaken attack on a civilian vehicle last week in western Kosovo. Yugoslav officials said 75 people were killed, although alliance officials could not confirm a casualty figure.

The officer said NATO is investigating whether civilians were among two separate convoys that were attacked by alliance aircraft, one south and another north of Djakovica.

National Security Council spokesman David Leavy said President Clinton, in conversations with the presidents of Albania, Hungary and Romania, vowed to press on with the air war until it was successful, and looked beyond the crisis to discuss how to rebuild and integrate the region into Europe.

Clinton, in an interview with Britain's Sunday Times newspaper, called Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic a "belligerent tyrant" and "Europe's worst demagogue," and said any solution would require a major change in Belgrade.

The president also has been in telephone contact with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien and French President Jacques Chirac, White House spokesman Barry Toiv said yesterday.

"In [Clinton's] conversations with the three leaders yesterday, they all agreed on the need to use the NATO summit to help sustain the alliance in its action," Toiv said.

Faced with increased refugee flows and more reports of Serbian atrocities, top Clinton administration officials defended the scope of NATO's military campaign yesterday. Airstrikes are slowing down the forces of Milosevic, the officials said, adding that there are no current plans for NATO ground troops.

"[Milosevic] is being seriously weakened. Our allies are all determined to prevail," said Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, appearing on ABC's "This Week." "What is evident from all the information that I have seen and has been reported is that his military generally is being weakened while our air campaign is strengthening."

Albright reiterated that Clinton has "no intention for ground forces," although last fall's plan for up to 275,000 ground troops "can be quickly updated."

Albright said NATO is trying to come up with "stricter action" to limit oil supplies heading into Serbia from the Yugoslav province of Montenegro.

Is NATO losing the war?

Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott was asked on NBC's "Meet the Press" if the alliance was losing the war.

"We're not, and we're going to win this war," Talbott declared, saying "winning it means" the return of about 700,000 refugees to Kosovo with a "high degree of self-governance," the removal of Serbian forces and the placement of "an international security presence."

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