NATO to suspend Belgrade strikes only briefly
April 8, 1999
BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (CNN) -- Flying to Yugoslavia under a NATO safe-passage promise, the speaker of the Cypriot Parliament arrived in Belgrade on Thursday on his mission to gain the release of three U.S. Army soldiers captured by Serb forces. But two new developments could complicate the effort.
U.S. officials told CNN a temporary halt in NATO airstrikes on Belgrade -- timed to coincide with Spyros Kyprianou's arrival -- would last only two hours, until 7 p.m. (1 p.m. EDT/1700 GMT)
Cypriot sources told CNN that Kyprianou would not meet with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic until Friday.
A plane carrying Kyprianou arrived in Belgrade about 5 p.m. (11 a.m. EDT/1500 GMT) on a flight from Athens.
Both U.S. and NATO officials had said earlier that the air war against Yugoslavia, now in its 16th day, would not be halted in order to secure the soldiers' release.
But the Pentagon said Thursday that NATO had arranged that no allied bombing missions would interfere with the Cypriot lawmaker's flight to Belgrade.
Before leaving Athens on Thursday morning, Kyprianou was reluctant to say what the outcome of his trip would be, indicating he was less certain than he was on Wednesday that his mission would succeed.
While the United States has refused to make any concessions to gain the soldiers' release, Cypriot sources told CNN that the continuing NATO airstrikes could complicate gaining the men's release.
U.S. officials told CNN on Thursday they were hopeful a release could be arranged.
But "we don't view this as a done deal," a Clinton administration source said. "This could drag out. This may go nowhere."
Kyprianou had asked for a 24-hour NATO cease-fire while he pursued his mission.
"What Mr. Kyprianou has asked (for) is safe passage to Belgrade and this has been given, so he is flying safely," Erato Marcoullis, the Cypriot ambassador to the United States, told CNN.
"During his stay, it was assured that he will be safe until his return, hopefully with the three GIs," she told CNN from Washington.
Kyprianou arrived in the Greek capital Wednesday -- en route to Belgrade -- after saying the Yugoslav government was willing to turn over the three American soldiers.
His flight from Athens, which left at 3:20 p.m. (8:20 a.m. EDT/1220 GMT) on Thursday, was delayed about four hours as he awaited clearance from the Yugoslav military to fly into Belgrade.
The departure raised U.S. hopes that the three soldiers would be released. If they are freed, a U.S. military aircraft is standing by in Athens to take them to a U.S. military base in Germany.
Kyprianou was traveling to Yugoslavia on a humanitarian mission and not as a negotiator, Marcoullis said.
If necessary, the ambassador said, Kyprianou would stay overnight. It will "depend on developments," she said.
Staff Sgt. Andrew Ramirez, 24, of Los Angeles; Spc. Steven Gonzales, 21, of Huntsville, Texas; and Staff Sgt. Christopher Stone, 25, of Smiths Creek, Michigan; were captured March 31 near the border of Macedonia and Kosovo.
Macedonia is an independent country that was once part of Yugoslavia. Kosovo is a province in the Yugoslav republic of Serbia.
NATO says the soldiers were noncombat troops under its command and were on a routine border patrol. Belgrade says they were captured on Yugoslav territory.
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Extensive list of Kosovo-related sites
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