Serb attacks reported on Kosovo villages
March 26, 1999
(CNN) -- As NATO began a third day of air attacks on Yugoslavia, there were reports of Yugoslav troops and Serb paramilitary units sweeping through villages in Kosovo, killing people and causing widespread destruction.
Yugoslav authorities have expelled journalists and diplomatic observers from several NATO member countries, but reports of massacres and widespread destruction emerged from other sources.
NATO officials on Friday again urged Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to end attacks by his troops and Serb paramilitary units in the rebellious province, where ethnic Albanians are the majority.
"The Serbian forces are shelling indiscriminately, especially in the northern part of Kosovo," Pleurat Sejdiu, a spokesman for the rebel Kosovo Liberation Army, said from London. "In the Drenica region, we have reports that some 20,000 civilians are encircled by Serbian forces." Those reports could not be independently confirmed.
The KLA is fighting for independence for Kosovo. Kosovar Albanian leaders have agreed to a Western-backed peace plan that would grant the province a limited autonomy within Serbia, the dominant republic in the Yugoslav federation. NATO countries say Yugoslavia must agree to that plan and end attacks on Kosovo for NATO air raids to stop.
At NATO's military headquarters in Mons, Belgium, the alliance's military commander said air power alone won't stop attacks by soldiers and Serb paramilitary units on villages.
But U.S. Gen. Wesley Clark said NATO forces might begin to strike at Yugoslav troops on the move if the fighting continues. Milosevic can stop the bombing "with a phone call," Clark said.
Clark said the attacks by Yugoslav troops in Kosovo were not triggered by NATO raids, but were planned long ago by Serb authorities.
British Defense Minister George Robertson told reporters in London that two villages across the border in Albania had been shelled by Yugoslav forces. Other ethnic Albanian villages in Kosovo had been razed as well, he said.
Robertson said NATO strikes would continue the bombings until "Milosevic's murder machine" stopped attacking ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.
U.S. intelligence officials say Serb forces are driving ethnic Albanians out of villages and rounding up prominent civilians while international observers are gone. In the provincial capital of Pristina, Veton Surroi -- one of the four Kosovar Albanian signers of the peace accords -- has gone into hiding.
Human rights groups said several ethnic Albanian community leaders have been kidnapped in Kosovo, and some have been killed.
"The war in Kosovo has now entered a new phase," said James Hooper, of the Balkan Action Council in the United States. "Serbian forces have begun to abduct and execute the professionals, the political leaders and others in a number of places throughout Kosovo."
The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said Friday that Yugoslav troops reportedly killed 20 civilians in a town in southwestern Kosovo.
The UNHCR, citing witnesses' accounts, said Serbian forces torched village homes, separated men from their families and executed 20 of them. The accounts came from 174 women and children who crossed into northern Albania, UNHCR spokesman Kris Janowski said in Geneva.
"They alleged 20 of them (the men) were executed and they actually saw the bodies," Janowski said.
The commission estimates about 450,000 people have fled Kosovo in more than a year of fighting -- roughly 25 percent of the province's pre-conflict population, NATO spokesman Jamie Shea said Friday.
A U.S. official condemned the reported massacre, but said the United States had no official confirmation of it.
"We have seen continued fighting and reports of atrocities," U.S. National Security Council spokesman David Leavy said. "It only underscores the brutality of the Milosevic regime and his blatant disregard for human life, and the necessity for NATO's strong response to his repression."
NATO halts second night of airstrikes
Independent Yugoslav radio station B92
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