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World - Europe

5th day of NATO strikes begins; ethnic Albanians flee Kosovo


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March 28, 1999
Web posted at: 6:05 p.m. EST (2305 GMT)

In this story:

NATO says quarter of Kosovars displaced

U.S., Britain beef up air power

U.S. officials brace for 'catastrophe'

NATO: Saturday's strikes hit 17 major targets


BRUSSELS, Belgium (CNN) -- NATO began its fifth day of airstrikes on Yugoslavia on Sunday, as thousands of ethnic Albanian refugees poured out of Kosovo with harrowing stories of systematic ethnic cleansing at the hands of Serb police and paramilitaries, according to NATO officials.

But after meeting with Yugoslav government and army leaders Sunday, President Slobodan Milosevic said his country would continue its resistance. In a show of Serb unity, thousands of people attended an anti-NATO concert in the center of Belgrade.

The official Tanjug news agency said the people and armed forces were linked by "strong unity, a high patriotic conscience and determination to endure in the just struggle against the criminal aggressors."

NATO says quarter of Kosovars displaced

At NATO headquarters in Brussels, spokesman Jamie Shea said the strike campaign is now aimed at heading off what he termed "a major humanitarian disaster" in Kosovo. He said more than 500,000 people -- about a quarter of the province's population -- have been displaced.

Tens of thousands of refugees have headed into neighboring Albania and Macedonia and into the Yugoslav republic of Montenegro, Shea said. Many gave eyewitness accounts of forced expulsions of ethnic Albanians from their homes, summary executions and men being detained and carted away in trucks.

"Whether we like it or not, we have to recognize we are on the brink of a major humanitarian disaster in Kosovo, the likes of which have not been seen in Europe since the closing days of World War II," Shea said. "We are acting in a just cause. We are convinced of that."

Shea bristled at suggestions that NATO military action may have made the situation worse, noting that Serb actions against ethnic Albanians predated the beginning of the air campaign.

"What is going on in Kosovo is not an improvised affair," he said.

U.S., Britain beef up air power

NATO officials announced Saturday that the air campaign will move into a new phase in which the emphasis will be tanks, troop columns and military hardware on the ground in Kosovo.

"Now what we want to do is be able to attack, from the airplanes, their headquarters, their commanders which are underground so that we can stop the tremendous ethnic cleansing which is now taking place on the ground," said NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana on ABC's "This Week" program.

Shea said the attacks will be carried out primarily in Kosovo and areas just to the north of the province, though attacks on air defenses and other military facilities will continue in other parts of Yugoslavia.

Key NATO members Britain and the United States are making more aircraft available for the Yugoslav operation.

The Royal Air Force will commit another 12 combat planes and a tanker to the allied action in the Balkans, and the U.S. Air Force has been given permission to fly more B-52 heavy bombers out of British air bases, British Defense Secretary George Robertson said.

Those planes will be part of NATO's attempt to stop attacks on ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, he said.

The British commitment includes eight Tornado fighter- bombers, four additional Harrier ground attack planes and a tanker, Robertson said. The combat planes will be ready to participate in NATO attacks by Monday.

U.S. officials brace for 'catastrophe'

In Washington, senior U.S. administration officials tell CNN that attacks on ethnic Albanians have intensified since the NATO airstrikes began.

"This is not just one unit out of control," said one official. "This is an calculated campaign by the (Yugoslav) government to reduce or eliminate the Albanian population of Kosovo."

"Clearly, a catastrophe is unfolding," he said.

U.S. officials said they believe much of the Kosovar Albanian political leadership, including Ibrahim Rugova, has gone into hiding.

But in an interview on CNN's "Late Edition," Vuk Draskovic, Yugoslavia's deputy prime minister, denied that there was any orchestrated campaign under way to kill ethnic Albanians or force them out of the country.

"We need Albanians in our state. No one has that genocide strategy. Albanian (terrorists) are doing that crime," he said.

NATO: Saturday's strikes hit 17 major targets

In a press briefing on Saturday's NATO attacks, Air Commodore David Wilby, a British member of NATO's staff, said the strikes were concentrated near Belgrade, with other strikes running south in a line through Pristina to the Macedonian border.

The attacks were carried out "without significant collateral damage to civilian life or infrastructure," Wilby said. Sixty-six NATO aircraft attacked in two waves, striking 17 major targets.

Allied forces flew a total of 253 sorties, hitting 11 targets in the region of Belgrade and six others scattered across the country, he said.

For the most part, those targets were parts of Yugoslavia's integrated air defense system and command-and-control headquarters, and the headquarters of Serbia special police units, who are believed responsible for much of the violence reportedly taking place in Kosovo, he said.

During Saturday's operations, one U.S. F-117A stealth fighter crashed about 40 kilometers (25 miles) west of Belgrade. An American search-and-rescue team found the pilot, who was reported in good condition Sunday at a NATO base. Pentagon officials say they have not determined why the plane went down.

Meanwhile, Reuters quoted a senior government official in Macedonia as saying that country was expected to ask NATO to admit it urgently as a member because of security concerns over the crisis in Kosovo on its northern border.

NATO began the airstrikes Wednesday after the Milosevic government refused to sign a pact ending a year of ethnic strife in Kosovo. Representatives of the province's ethnic Albanian population already have signed the agreement.

Correspondents Mike Hanna, Chris Burns, Carol Black, Alessio Vinci, Andrea Koppel and Patricia Kelly contributed to this report.

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  • Federal Republic of Yugoslavia official site
      • Kesovo and Metohija facts
  • Serbia Ministry of Information
  • Serbia Now! News

  • Kosova Crisis Center
  • Kosovo - from

  • F-117s arrive at Aviano to support possible NATO operations
  • NATO official site
  • BosniaLINK - U.S. Dept. of Defense
  • U.S. Navy images from Operation Allied Force
  • U.K. Ministry of Defence - Kosovo news
  • U.K. Royal Air Force - Kosovo news
  • Jane's Defence - Kosovo Crisis

  • Independent Yugoslav radio stations B92
  • Institute for War and Peace Reporting
  • United States Information Agency - Kosovo Crisis

  • 1997 view of Kosovo from space - Eurimage
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