March 29, 1999
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Amid indications that "genocide is unfolding in Kosovo," the U.S. State Department on Monday welcomed a new Russian diplomatic effort to resolve the crisis, but said the only way to stop NATO airstrikes against Yugoslavia would be for President Slobodan Milosevic to accept a U.S.-brokered peace plan.
President Clinton was being briefed at the White House by his international policy advisers and was not scheduled to make any public statements on Monday.
The president returned to Washington after spending Sunday at the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland. He said nothing to reporters as he stepped from a helicopter onto the White House lawn.
Reports of atrocities are 'credible'
State Department spokesman James Rubin said reports of killings and mass expulsions of Kosovo Albanians "continue to accumulate" and are "credible."
He accused the Serbs of "abhorrent and criminal action on a maximum scale" and he detailed reports of executions of ethnic Albanian school teachers, a negotiator, an editor and hundreds of unarmed civilians.
Refugees continue to stream out of Kosovo and into neighboring areas, Rubin said. At least 60,000 had entered Albania "in the last 48 hours, according to the United Nations, and to a lesser extent into Montenegro and Macedonia," Rubin said.
He also disclosed that Secretary of State Madeleine Albright spoke again by telephone Monday with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov after conferring with him Sunday night.
U.S. cautious on Russian peace bid
Ivanov is one of several top officials that Russian President Boris Yeltsin will send to Belgrade on Tuesday for talks with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic on finding a political end to the crisis. Joining him will be Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov and Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev.
While U.S. officials wished the Russians success, "NATO will continue air operations until such time as President Milosevic halts his offensive and commits to a settlement based on the Rambouillet accords," Rubin said.
Rambouillet, a town near Paris, is where leaders of Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority agreed earlier this month to a peace plan that would grant Kosovo autonomy but not immediate independence.
Milosevic, whose forces last year began a crackdown on those he calls Albanian "terrorists," objects to a peace plan provision calling for NATO peacekeeping troops in Kosovo.
NATO authorized the airstrikes last week after Milosevic refused to call off the attacks.
Attacks did not intensify 'ethnic cleansing'
The White House insisted, meanwhile, that NATO airstrikes were not responsible for inflaming ethnic hatred in the Balkans.
Spokesman Joe Lockhart said U.S. officials believed Milosevic would have aggressively repressed Kosovar Albanians -- a process Lockhart and others in the administration have called "ethnic cleansing" -- no matter what.
Based on "everything we know about Milosevic and the Serbs, they were going ahead with this. And we were faced with a choice here. Do we act or do we not act?" Lockhart said.
By acting now, he said, the NATO allies are making the Yugoslav leader "pay a price that he will not be able to sustain," he said.
War crimes trial?
NATO estimates that 500,000 ethnic Albanians have fled their homes over the past year of conflict and, as thousands more refugees streamed out of Kosovo Monday, telling harrowing tales of atrocities by Serbian forces, Rubin again raised the specter of war-crimes trials.
He said even Milosevic could be held accountable and subject to imprisonment for life. "We have no doubt that he bears political responsibility" for the killing and uprooting of civilians, Rubin said.
The State Department spokesman also said Washington was "in close contact" with Russian authorities investigating Sunday's attack at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.
A gunman, who remains at large, sprayed the building with automatic gunfire in an attack apparently linked to Russian protests against NATO airstrikes. No one was hurt and the embassy was open for business on Monday.
U.S. skeptical of Russian peace bid in Yugoslavia
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