Air raid sirens in Belgrade; Britain says Serb offensive wipes out Kosovo villages
March 27, 1999
LONDON (CNN) -- An explosion was heard outside Belgrade Saturday evening as air raid sirens rang out in the Yugoslav capital, CNN's Brent Sadler reported, perhaps signifying a fourth day of NATO airstrikes is imminent. NATO officials said Saturday that alliance planes had carried out 249 sorties against targets in Yugoslavia since the strikes began Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Britain said on Saturday that Yugoslav forces had launched an "all-out offensive" against ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, and that NATO airstrikes would now increasingly focus on command and control posts masterminding these "indiscriminate killings and burnings" by Yugoslav forces.
British Secretary of Defense George Robertson told a news conference on Saturday that, while three waves of NATO bombardments against Yugoslav military air defense targets had been successful, the campaign would continue relentlessly.
He accused Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic of stepping up the crackdown against ethnic Albanians in the Serb province of Kosovo, where over 2,000 people have already been killed in the separatist conflict.
"We have heard that some villages do not exist," Robertson told a news conference, referring to reports from various sources about mounting repression.
"There are clear signs that an all-out offensive (against ethnic Albanians) has started," Robertson warned.
At the briefing, British Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Guthrie told journalists that NATO had severely damaged the Yugoslav armed forces' integrated air defense system.
He said that NATO had also begun to attack regional command and control centers of the Yugoslav army, including a key post in Kosovo. That command post, Guthrie said, had played a key role in the crackdown on ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.
"We know that their army has been badly rattled by this attack," Guthrie said, adding that the post was badly damaged Friday.
He also vowed that "we'll see this (NATO mission) through until the objective has been achieved."
NATO and major Western powers say the bombings will continue until Milosevic accepts an international interim peace plan for Kosovo -- or until NATO considers the Yugoslav armed forces so reduced by the bombings that they will not be able to carry on their attacks in Kosovo.
The Albanian interior ministry said Saturday that Serb artillery had shelled several ethnic Albanian villages in Kosovo late on Friday night.
"The villages of Djakovica (district) are burning," the interior ministry said, quoting reports from its observers who can watch the neighboring territory of Kosovo from the Albanian mountains.
Robertson accused Yugoslav army forces and Serb special police of "killing and burning indiscriminately" in Kosovo, and there have been mounting, but unconfirmed, reports that dozens and dozens of ethnic Albanians have been slaughtered in the past few days.
Serb officials have accused the separatist Kosovo Liberation Army of having stepped up attacks on Serb forces in Kosovo.
Independent confirmation of the reports has become very difficult as international mediators pulled out in light of the mounting tension in Kosovo and international journalists were forced to evacuate.
There were also mounting fears that the conflict might spread, after NATO forces shot down two Yugoslav fighter aircraft over Bosnia-Herzegovina on Friday.
Robertson warned Milosevic that such an escalation would trigger a firm response from NATO.
NATO's third round of bombings, which started Friday, was extensive but somewhat hampered by bad weather.
Yugoslav state television showed pictures of explosions and fires in the suburbs of the capital Belgrade, caused by what the media reports called "NATO criminals."
The television reports said the night raids hit both military and civilian facilities, but gave few details.
Reports from Serbian media indicated that NATO again attacked targets all over Yugoslavia, including the region of Pristina, the capital of Kosovo.
The raids ended shortly after midnight, although air raid sirens sounded in Belgrade later in the night.
A British military spokesman said further attacks were prevented by poor weather.
Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said on Saturday that Russia would not take actions that would risk sucking it into war.
"If anyone thinks Russia is going to get sucked in, they are deeply mistaken," Ivanov said at the start of an emergency session of the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, on the Yugoslav crisis.
Ivanov said Russia would consider asking the United Nations General Assembly to hold a special session to discuss the crisis if the NATO air strikes continue.
The U.N. Security Council on Friday voted down a Russian-sponsored resolution calling for a halt to the bombings.
Pentagon: 'We have made progress'
Kosovo from space (September 1997)
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