NATO confirms U.S. soldiers captured, Serbian TV shows men bruised and bleeding
April 1, 1999
BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (CNN) -- Serb television has broadcast stark footage of what it claims are three U.S. soldiers who were missing on the Yugoslav-Macedonia border. The men appeared to be bruised and bleeding.
Dressed in U.S. army fatigues, the three -- two sergeants and a specialist -- are shown seated at a table with microphones before them. They appeared to be responding to questions.
The footage was broadcast shortly before 2 a.m. (EST) and caught Pentagon officials off guard. A massive search had been under way since the men disappeared on Wednesday afternoon.
The soldiers were named as James Stone, Andrew Ramirez and Steven Gonzales.
It was unclear whether the families of the soldiers, who had been notified of their disappearance, were immediately informed of the broadcast by Serb television.
CNN's Matthew Chance reported from Macedonia that the search for the three U.S. soldiers was called off less than an hour after the Serb broadcast. NATO officials said the three men pictured were indeed the missing U.S. soldiers, Chance reported.
The Serbian broadcast reported that the men sustained injuries when they resisted arrest.
An announcer said the Serb Army Corps in Pristina captured the three men on the Yugoslav side of the border. They had been on patrol in Macedonia.
CNN's Brent Sadler reported from Belgrade that there appeared to be a high degree of satisfaction among Yugoslav authorities over what appears to have been the capture of the soldiers.
Sadler reported he had been told further details on the men were unlikely to be released soon by Yugoslav officials.
NATO troops, helicopters and a U.S. C-130 aircraft had been combing the rugged terrain on the Yugoslav-Macedonia border looking for the men.
The three were last heard from in radio contact Wednesday when they reported coming under small arms fire.
The missing soldiers were part of a larger patrol near the Macedonian village of Kumanovo when the group split up into teams.
At about 2:30 p.m. local time Wednesday (7:30 a.m. EST), the three men radioed that they had come under fire by unknown gunmen. Shortly afterward, they reported being surrounded; then radio contact was lost.
The U.S. army troops were part of what used to be a U.N. peacekeeping mission charged with monitoring the border between Macedonia and Yugoslavia. When that mission ended in February, the troops remained as part of a NATO border force.
Meanwhile, Serb television broadcast footage of what was said to be a destroyed bridge over the Danube River at Novi Sad in Serbia's northern Voivodina province.
The attack reportedly took place soon after 5 a.m. local time (0300GMT), Tanjug news agency reported.
The bridge was said to link Novi Sad to the suburb of Petrovaradin to the northeast of the provincial capital. Earlier, Tanjug reported two "very strong" explosions in Novi Sad.
If the bridge was hit by a NATO airstrike, it would be the first target that was not specifically a military target, signifying a broadening of the military campaign to target infrastructure.
In Washington Wednesday, Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon said the headquarters of Yugoslav special forces had been hit, the strike nearest to downtown Belgrade to date.
In addition, Bacon said that NATO aircraft had hit "several tanks" and other military vehicles in Kosovo. He would not identify the weapons used nor the number of vehicles hit, but said U.S. A-10 aircraft were not used.
British Air Commodore David Wilby said Serb military forces comprising three companies of soldiers continue to bombard refugees in the Pagarusa Valley with mortar and artillery shells.
He said overnight NATO aircraft had hit "a full range of targets" with no planes lost. And he confirmed that NATO planes were going after Serb ground forces but would give no details.
He said 30 Serb aircraft had now been destroyed.
"We've accomplished one hell of a lot," said Wilby. "His (Milosevic) air power is almost non-existent right now. He is hurting. We know he is short of fuel. I think you will see his resolve start cracking quickly," said Wilby.
On Wednesday, NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana said the alliance remained determined to halt the killings of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo and to damage the Serb "war machinery" in Yugoslavia as much as possible.
Solana told CNN the basic objectives had not changed. He said the aim of Operation Allied Force was to "damage as much as possible the machinery of war, and the destruction of the Serbian army and the military police."
"We are going to continue to damage as much as possible those units that are responsible for the criminal acts that have taken place in Kosovo," he said.
Yugoslavia's representative to the United Nations, Vladislav Jovanovic, said NATO was creating an "artificial humanitarian situation" and trying to broaden the organization's influence in the Balkans.
Speaking on CNN in response to Solana's statement, Jovanovic said Belgrade was merely cracking down on "terrorism," and he blamed the refugee crisis on NATO and the Kosovo Liberation Army.
"Albanian terrorists, in close cooperation with NATO, have told the people to escape from Kosovo in order to manufacture an artificial humanitarian situation," he said.
Tens of thousands of ethnic Albanians have fled to Macedonia, Albania and Montenegro in the past few days. Many of them told CNN of random executions by Serb army and paramilitary police units, looting, torching and forced expulsions.
The refugee exodus has triggered a massive international aid effort involving many Western nations and all major international humanitarian aid agencies.
NATO has accused the Yugoslav authorities of deliberate "identity elimination" of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.
"The Yugoslav forces, so we are learning, are destroying the archives of the Kosovar people: property deeds, marriage licenses, birth certificates, financial and other records," NATO spokesman Jamie Shea said at a news conference.
"This is a kind of Orwellian scenario of attempting to deprive a people of a sense of past and a sense of community on which it depends and to rewrite history," he said, comparing it to a vicious regime described in the novel "1984" by English author George Orwell.
In light of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's continued crackdown in the Serb province, NATO said Wednesday the airstrikes against Serb military targets in Yugoslavia would be stepped up.
The alliance says it will stop its raids only if Milosevic accepts an international peace proposal, or NATO considers the Yugoslav military forces too weakened to continue their crackdown.
Meanwhile, Pope John Paul II dispatched a top Vatican official to meet Thursday in Belgrade with Milosevic.
The Vatican had also requested that hostilities cease out of respect for the upcoming Easter period. Catholic Easter will be celebrated this Sunday while the Orthodox Easter comes on April 11.
But NATO and the U.S. have vowed to press on through the religious period.
In an interview with the CBS network's 60 Minutes program, U.S. President Bill Clinton was firm that attacks would continue through Easter.
"I hate more the idea that we could walk away from this campaign while he (Milosevic) continues to clean out house after house ... and kill a lot of innocent people," Clinton said.
Time Daily - April 1, 1999: Refugees in Montenegro: Bad, and Getting Worse
Extensive list of Kosovo-related sites
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