New pictures of captured U.S. soldiers
In isolation, 'healthy,' but won't be freed
April 30, 1999
BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (CNN) -- Three captured U.S. servicemen are being held in isolation in Yugoslavia prison cells but are "physically very healthy," according to the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who, along with a few journalists, was allowed to visit and videotape them on Friday.
Earlier in the day, Yugoslavia's foreign minister told Jackson the soldiers will not be freed until NATO bombing stops, sources familiar with the meeting told CNN.
Shortly after the visit at a military prison in Belgrade, Jackson told CNN by telephone that he met with them individually and then as a group.
"Our visit was cut short," he said, when air raid sirens sounded.
Staff Sgt. Andrew Ramirez, 24, of Los Angeles; Staff Sgt. Christopher Stone, 25, of Smiths Creek, Michigan; and Spc. Steven Gonzales, 22, of Huntsville, Texas, "are physically very healthy," Jackson told CNN.
"They have been in isolation. They don't talk with each other," he added.
Ramirez's mother told CNN she was "glad that (Jackson) had the opportunity to go visit the boys and that they were looking good."
Vivian Ramirez said by telephone from Los Angeles she is certain her son "will hang in there now that he has gotten our letters and knows ... everybody in the whole United States is behind him."
Jackson was accompanied to the prison by Rep. Rod Blagojevich, D-Illinois.
Although a newspaper reporter and some photo-journalists were permitted to witness the visit, U.S. religious leaders who traveled with Jackson to Yugoslavia were excluded, prompting them to complain that Yugoslav officials were trying to politicize the meeting.
Jackson said he delivered messages from the soldiers' families and brought them Bibles and other books, plus "religious paraphernalia."
He said videotapes were made of the jailed prisoners greeting family members. "Then, we had prayer with each of them, urging them to hold on until the morning cometh, because it has been for them a cold, dark night."
"Their spirits were lifted" by the visit, Jackson said. "They felt quite good about it."
"They are Americans who have a great sense of honor for what they are doing for the country," he said. "They met us today with a great sense of dignity and their youth generation should be proud of them and our country should be proud of them."
Hours prior to the prison visit, Jackson was told the soldiers would not be release while NATO airstrikes continue.
"We outlasted Hitler's bombing. We survived Soviet pressure and (former Soviet leader Leonid) Brezhnev and we are not going to capitulate to NATO bombing," Foreign Minister Zivadin Jovanovic was quoted as saying.
Jackson said he would meet again with Jovanovic on Friday night. "We'll keep appealing for their release," he said.
Jackson and his delegation arrived in Belgrade on Thursday night, just hours before NATO's strongest attack so far on the Yugoslav capital.
He called the bombing "intense."
Jackson, who expected to meet with President Slobodan Milosevic on Saturday, also has held talks with the head of the Serbian Orthodox Church and other religious leaders in Yugoslavia.
He said he appealed to them to "help us create a diplomatic breakthrough" that could end the bombings and allow Kosovo refugees to return home in safety.
The three soldiers were shown on Serb TV with cuts and bruised faces shortly after their capture near the Macedonia border on March 31.
A Red Cross doctor who examined them on Tuesday -- nearly four weeks after they were seized -- said they were in "satisfactory" condition.
The White House discouraged Jackson's independent mission, saying it feared for his safety.
The Clinton administration also said it doubted Jackson would be successful in securing the infantrymen's release, but it wished him well. "We have no reason to believe he will get them out. If he does, it will be terrific," State Department spokesman James Rubin told CNN on Friday.
Correspondent Walter Rodgers contributed to this report.
Jackson visits captured U.S. soldiers
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