Britain: NATO campaign will last 'as long as necessary'
April 10, 1999
Russia 'has no intention of becoming involved'
LONDON (CNN) -- More than two weeks of NATO airstrikes have cut off vital supplies to Yugoslavia's forces in Kosovo and will continue until all of NATO's goals are met, British military officials said Saturday.
"We have now had 17 days of airstrikes. People ask quite properly how long it will go on," Armed Forces Minister Doug Henderson said. "I answer them emphatically, it will go on as long as necessary."( 382 K/33 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)
Meanwhile, Henderson said Britain received new assurances from Russia on Saturday that it would not intervene militarily in the Balkans conflict.
Russia has strong historic ties to the Serbs, who make up the majority of the population in the Yugoslav federation. It has strenuously objected to the NATO campaign, and Russian President Boris Yeltsin warned Friday that the conflict could lead to a world war.
But on Saturday, Russia's foreign minister, Igor Ivanov, assured British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook "that Russia had no intention of becoming involved in any confrontation in the Balkans and no wish to see any escalation," Henderson said. "The foreign secretary welcomed that assurance."
NATO officials say the bombing will stop only when Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic ends attacks on ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, withdraws troops from the province and allows a NATO-led military force to oversee a plan for its autonomy.
Henderson said the airstrikes have cut off supplies of fuel and ammunition to Yugoslav troops. NATO accuses the Serb-led Yugoslav army of conducting a violent campaign against ethnic Albanian civilians in Kosovo.
"We have weakened and disrupted President Milosevic's military machine. We have seriously damaged his ability ... to sustain a campaign of terror and repression," Henderson said.
But Henderson said bad weather hampered NATO bombing runs Friday night.
The weather was not expected to improve during the weekend, with a forecast of at least two days of clouds and scattered showers. However, CNN's Bill Hemmer reported some NATO planes departed the Aviano air base in Italy on Saturday morning. Aviano is a main staging area for NATO air attacks on Yugoslavia.
The 17th consecutive night of bombing began shortly after NATO requested about 50 additional warplanes to intensify Operation Allied Force. Currently, about 600 NATO aircraft are operating in the Balkans.
NATO and Belgrade offered conflicting reports Saturday over a transmission station hit in the overnight bombing raids.
Tanjug, Yugoslavia's official news agency, reported that a transmitter for the country's RTS television channel was hit near Kosovo's provincial capital of Pristina. But a NATO official told CNN that the target was a military radio transmitter.
There was no independent confirmation of either report.
NATO has accused Yugoslavia's state-run media of spreading propaganda and suggested that it was fair game as a target.
Yugoslavia's charge d'affaires Vladislav Jovanovic told CNN he was not surprised that NATO might be targeting media facilities.
He said the attack on the transmitter was in violation of conventions guaranteeing freedom of the press. "The United States, which pretends to be the champion of democracy in the world, is acting against the free voice of the truth about the aggression against Yugoslavia." ( 365 K/33 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)
Meanwhile, NATO has launched a counterattack on the Serb media via the Internet. Henderson said NATO translated its Web site into Serbo-Croatian to make it easier for Yugoslav citizens to read.
"This will expose the reasons why Yugoslavia is now a pariah state in the international community -- reviled and despised for what it is doing in Kosovo," Henderson said.
In Pentagon briefings on Yugoslavia Friday, U.S. officials said they had received reports that Serb troops were herding ethnic Albanian women from Kosovo into Serb military camps and raping them.
"This is a very eerie and disturbing echo of documented instances of rape and killing of women in Bosnia during the Bosnia war, and it is obviously outrageous if this is occurring," said Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon.
Late Friday, about 1,500 ethnic Albanians streamed from Kosovo into Albania in a convoy of tractors, jeeps and other vehicles after Yugoslav forces and Serb police expelled them from their village near Pristina, according to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
It was the first mass exodus of refugees into Albania since the checkpoint was reportedly closed three days ago.
Correspondents Bill Hemmer, Brent Sadler, Alessio Vinci and Matthew Chance contributed to this report.
Serbs reportedly planting land mines to create Kosovo 'no man's land'
Extensive list of Kosovo-related sites
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