U.N. demands Yugoslavs punish those behind Kosovo massacres
Albright: NATO 'prepared to act' militarily
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Web posted at: 10:25 p.m. EDT (0225 GMT)
NEW YORK (CNN) -- The U.N. Security Council condemned recent massacres of civilians in the Serbian province of Kosovo, and demanded Thursday that Yugoslav authorities find and punish those responsible.
Meanwhile, NATO forces, led by the United States, were continuing preparations for possible air strikes against the Yugoslav federation in retaliation for its seven-month crackdown on ethnic Albanian separatists in Kosovo.
"NATO is now prepared to act," said U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, emerging from a secret briefing with U.S. senators on NATO's plans. However, she made it clear that officials would keep trying to reach a peaceful solution to the crisis.
"We believe that the best solution continues to be a diplomatic solution," Albright said.
In a sign that military action may be edging closer, the United States warned its nationals Thursday to avoid traveling to Yugoslavia, and advised those in the region to consider leaving.
Inside Kosovo, heavy fighting was reported in a village near the Albanian border, despite assurances from Yugoslav officials that their troops were being pulled back from violence-torn areas.
A U.N. spokesperson in Belgrade said there did appear to be a gradual withdrawal of Yugoslav forces from Kosovo, a province with an overwhelming Albanian majority inside Serbia, the largest of the two republics in the Yugoslav federation.
U.N. demands 'full and immediate compliance'
Britain, which just assumed the rotating presidency of the Security Council, asked for Thursday's emergency meeting to hear reports about the situation in Kosovo and to consider possible actions against the Yugoslavs.
In a statement after the meeting, Jeremy Greenstock, Britain's U.N. ambassador, said the council demanded "full and immediate compliance" with U.N. resolutions calling for the withdrawal of troops from the province. He did not indicate that the council had approved any military action.
"Council members expressed considerable alarm that fighting was continuing despite the demand ... for a cease-fire," Greenstock said.
He said it also appears that the fighting has created more refugees in the countryside, worsening what international officials fear may become a humanitarian disaster when winter sets in.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan will deliver a report to the Security Council on Monday on the Yugoslav federation's compliance with U.N. demands.
Annan: Violence 'must stop immediately'
Evidence of atrocities against civilians, allegedly at the hands of Serbian soldiers, surfaced earlier this week in at least two areas of Kosovo.
On Wednesday, residents of Golubovac said Serb forces surrounded a pocket of refugees on Saturday and killed at least 13 men. Five miles to the north, in Gornje Obrinje, diplomats, journalists and human rights workers said they had seen as many as 18 mutilated bodies, including those of women and children.
The Yugoslav government has denied that its forces played a role in the massacres. In its statement Thursday, the Security Council didn't single out Serbs directly for the atrocities, condemning "those responsible" without assigning blame. But in an interview with CNN, Annan came closer to pointing a finger at the Serbs.
"I utterly condemn these wanton killings and the excesses by the Serb security forces. And I think violence by all sides must stop immediately," Annan said. "If it doesn't stop and we don't have access to the displaced refugees in need, there will be a humanitarian disaster."
NATO attack would start with cruise missiles
Sources told CNN that NATO has been making plans for a series of graduated air strikes against military targets in Yugoslavia, including command and control facilities for its troops. The first wave would consist of cruise missiles launched from U.S. ships and warplanes, sources say.
While any attack would technically be a NATO effort, about 80 percent of the operation would be conducted by U.S. forces, sources say. The United States has an aircraft carrier, the USS Eisenhower, in Greece and also has planes in Germany, Italy, Turkey and Britain that could be used in a military operation.
However, there is no indication at this point that U.S. military assets are being deployed for an imminent attack. Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon emphasized Thursday that "no decision to use force has been made by NATO."
U.S. Secretary of Defense William Cohen, who briefed senators Thursday alongside Albright, said that in order to avoid military action, Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic must pull back troops and police, allow humanitarian relief agencies to operate in Kosovo, let refugees return to their homes and begin negotiations with ethnic Albanians on the political future of the province.
"The purpose of having a credible military threat is to indicate that in the absence of meeting those demands, [Milosevic] faces such a threat," Cohen said.
Security Council divided over military action
But at the United Nations, both Russia and China have flatly rejected any use of force to try to solve the Kosovo crisis.
Russia has religious and cultural ties to the Serbs. China is traditionally opposed to any military intervention into what it considers an internal matter.
As permanent members of the Security Council, the two nations could veto any U.N. resolution authorizing military action.
France, another permanent member, has said it believes such a resolution is necessary before any NATO air strikes can be launched. But the United States has repeatedly said it believes prior U.N. resolutions already authorize military action.
While Britain has not stated a position, British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook indicated Thursday that his government may be leaning toward the American point of view.
"Britain is ready to act," he told BBC Radio. "It's beginning to look like the only language President Milosevic will listen to is the threat of force."
Yugoslav forces began their crackdown in Kosovo in February, trying to stamp out a budding independence movement by ethnic Albanians in the province. The fighting has left about 800 people dead and driven another 300,000 from their homes.
Correspondents Jamie McIntyre, David Ensor, Tom Mintier and Reuters contributed to this report.
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