Clinton rallies troops, ponders prisoner release
May 5, 1999
SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, Germany (CNN) -- President Clinton told U.S. military personnel Wednesday that they were fighting for a just cause in the Balkans as his defense secretary said he would recommend releasing two Yugoslav prisoners.
In a speech to military personnel at the U.S. air base at Spangdahlem, Germany, Clinton thanked them "for your service and your sacrifice." He spoke as U.S. troops suffered their first losses in the campaign: A crash during a training mission in Albania killed the two-man crew of an AH-64 Apache helicopter gunship.
"Today we grieve for their families, and we pray for them," he said.
But he told them that the battle was being waged to extend the peace that has prevailed in Europe for most of the last half-century.
"Kosovo is an affront to everything we stand for," Clinton said.
NATO's bombing campaign is aimed at ending a reported Yugoslav campaign against ethnic Albanian civilians in the Serbian province of Kosovo. Clinton said the number of displaced persons was roughly equal to the entire population of Nebraska, about 1.5 million people.
"If we want Europe to be undivided and democratic and at peace for the first time in history -- and if we don't want your successors to have to come to this continent and fight another bitter war -- then we must stand in Kosovo for the elemental principle of the common humanity of every breathing, living person on this continent," he said.
While in Germany, Clinton will visit the U.S. base at Ramstein, the center of humanitarian relief efforts in the Balkan states. He will also meet with displaced Kosovars near Frankfurt.
Earlier Wednesday, Clinton met with NATO officials at the alliance's headquarters in Brussels, Belgium.
White House spokesman Joe Lockhart said Clinton urged NATO's Secretary-General, Javier Solana, to continue the air campaign against Yugoslavia. But he also said it was important to keep the Russians engaged in the diplomatic effort to end the fighting in Yugoslavia, according to Lockhart.
Lockhart also said Clinton asked Defense Secretary William Cohen to review the possibility of releasing two captured Yugoslav soldiers.
At a news conference Wednesday, Cohen said he would recommend releasing the two prisoners -- one of them a lieutenant -- "once the administrative work is completed, and once there has been a completion of the International Red Cross examination of these prisoners."
Cohen said the release would not be a reciprocal gesture in response to the Yugoslav release of three U.S. prisoners on Sunday. The release of the U.S. servicemen, he said, was simply an act of self-interest on the part of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.
Clinton also planned to meet privately with the three former POW's -- Spc. Steven Gonzales of Huntsville, Texas, Staff Sgt. Andrew Ramirez of Los Angeles and Staff Sgt. Christopher Stone of Smiths Creek, Michigan.
'Complications' may stall any release of Serb POWs
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