NATO vows more strikes

At alliance summit, members dismiss Milosevic overtue

Security force addressed

Balkans overshadow commemoration of pact's 50th birthday

April 24, 1999|By Mark Matthews and Jonathan Weisman | Mark Matthews and Jonathan Weisman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- NATO leaders, dismissing a peace feeler from Slobodan Milosevic, vowed yesterday to intensify bombing of Serbian targets and took the first steps to strengthen a planned security force that would be sent into a weakened Yugoslavia.

In a day that combined war planning with a solemn commemoration of NATO's 50th anniversary, the Defense Department dispatched an additional 2,050 U.S. troops to the Yugoslav border while leaders of the 19 alliance countries declared they would reverse Milosevic's "ethnic cleansing" of hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanians in the Serbian province of Kosovo.

"We will not allow this campaign of terror to succeed. NATO is determined to prevail," they said in a communique.

Hours earlier, NATO struck Serbian state television, knocking the nation's main source of news off the air for several hours. A Yugoslav government minister, Goran Matic, said 10 people were killed in the airstrike; up to 20 were believed still buried in the debris and up to 19 others were injured.

Officials at first gave conflicting justifications for the attack, but by day's end the United States, Britain and a NATO spokesman had said the same thing: Radio Television Serbia was a legitimate target because it spews destructive propaganda.

But Pentagon spokesman Kenneth H. Bacon referred to TV sites as "dual-use facilities thatpowered command and control and other military facilities in the area."

The target choice drew criticism from Italy, which is participating in the air war. Italian Foreign Minister Lamberto Dini said the attack on Serbian TV was "terrible" and was "not in the plans."

Meanwhile, the more top officials learned about a Yugoslav peace proposal conveyed Thursday through former Russian Prime Minister Viktor S. Chernomyrdin, the more they rejected it as insufficient.

"The conditions aren't acceptable," said French President Jacques Chirac.

Yugoslav Deputy Foreign Minister Nebojsa Vujovic said Milosevic only backs allowing a United Nations "unarmed presence a U.N. observer presence." NATO insists on a well-armed security force with a NATO "core" -- basically, a NATO command structure.

Responding to news reports that Chernomyrdin planned to present the offer in Washington, officials gently urged him not to come. Late yesterday, Russia sent word that he would be staying home.

"We are quite clear that we want to maintain dialogue with Russia. I am not myself necessarily clear that that is best done in the context of this summit, but the bridges are open to Russia, the doors are open, and we will be pursuing dialogue with them," said British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook.

War dominates summit

The summit, held in the spare, cavernous new Ronald Reagan Building, was originally billed as a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the alliance, created to cement European and U.S. security against the Cold War threat.

But the first day was almost entirely taken over by the war against Yugoslavia, NATO's first major conflict. The only purely celebratory event was a solemn ceremony in the ornate Customs Building auditorium in which the heads of state or government from each of the 19 member countries gave a five-minute speech hailing NATO's achievement. Even a party at the White House last night was labeled a working dinner.

A month of airstrikes has failed to prevent Serbian forces from driving out hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanians from Kosovo and killing thousands more inside the country.

But the leaders resisted growing pressure to send in ground troops. Instead, they reaffirmed their faith in air power and called for a greater range and intensity of bombing.

"We are intensifying NATO's military actions to increase the pressure on Belgrade," the leaders said in a communique.

"Experience has shown one must be stronger," said Chirac. Therefore, he urged military commanders to increase the number of strikes and diversify the targets to diminish the Serbs' command-and-control apparatus.

His statement signaled that the alliance will soon move to a full Phase 3 of the four-phased airstrike program. Phase 3 calls for hitting command-and-control sites throughout Yugoslavia.

A NATO diplomat conceded yesterday that military planners "can always find something, a radio transmitter, a satellite dish," to identify a target as a command-and-control facility.

"Really, we're going after Milosevic's power structure," the diplomat said.

Although no one emphasized the point, an intensification of the air campaign seemed likely to increase the risk of civilian casualties, as may have occurred yesterday, and the risk of downed allied aircraft.

NATO's supreme commander, Gen. Wesley K. Clark, told reporters that the monthlong air campaign has paid off. He said it had left Yugoslav air defenses ineffective and created a fuel crisis for Serbian forces.

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