NATO beefs up forces, moves to block Yugoslav oil
April 23, 1999
BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (CNN) -- As NATO leaders gathered in Washington to mark the 50th anniversary of the alliance, NATO bombs and missiles rained down on Yugoslavia before dawn Saturday, and more U.S. troops and tanks were set to be dispatched to the Balkans.
NATO also advanced plans to block the flow of oil into Yugoslavia by bombing pipelines and stopping tankers before they docked in Montenegro.
Yugoslavia's official Tanjug news agency reported Saturday that missiles slammed into the southern Serbian city of Nis -- headquarters of the Yugoslav army's Kosovo command -- shaking the city with loud explosions.
The Pentagon announced Friday that 2,000 more U.S. troops and a battery of heavy weapons would be sent to Albania to reinforce a battalion of Apache attack helicopters. The force will include 15 M-1 Abrams tanks, 14 M-2 Bradley Fighting Vehicles, a battery of eight 155-millimeter Howitzer artillery, ground-to-ground multiple launch rocket systems, anti-aircraft missile systems and other hardware.
The deployment is likely to begin early next week and will increase the size of the U.S. military force in Albania from 3,300 to 5,350 troops.
Early Friday, NATO forces pounded Belgrade in one of the most intense attacks on the capital since airstrikes began March 24. The headquarters of state-run Serbian television was hit, temporarily knocking the network off the air.
"There will be no sanctuary for these aspects of the regime that are spreading hatred and creating this political environment for repression," NATO spokesman Jamie Shea said.
A Yugoslav official said at least 10 people died in the attack on Serbian TV and 18 were taken to hospitals with serious burns. Twenty people were reported missing.
CNN's Brent Sadler said as many as 100 people were inside the building when the strike occurred.
Goran Matic, a Yugoslav government official, said the NATO attack was a "criminal act," and called those responsible "murderers."
The station resumed broadcasting from another location less than six hours later.
NATO had hinted that Serbian TV would become a target. Shea said it has been used to incite nationalist passions in Yugoslavia for nearly a decade.
"Radio Television Serbia, despite the appearance, is an instrument of war," Shea said. "It has nothing to do with journalism as you or I would recognize that."
Added Col. Konrad Freytag, NATO's military spokesman, "We are attacking the control system that is used to manipulate the military and police forces."
Asked whether NATO would hit the RTS signal's new source, Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon said, "Stay tuned."
Meanwhile, leaders of the 19 member nations of NATO, and 23 countries in NATO's partnership for peace, assembled in Washington to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the alliance and discuss the situation in Kosovo.
The alliance issued a statement saying that "NATO is determined to prevail" over Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.
NATO defense ministers also agreed on a two-pronged plan to reduce the flow of oil into Yugoslavia through ports in Serbia's junior republic, Montenegro. The plan calls for stopping oil tankers at sea and a more aggressive bombing of oil pipelines and distribution facilities in Yugoslavia.
Senior NATO officials told CNN that NATO Supreme Commander Gen. Wesley Clark has been directed to draw up a plan as soon as possible for a "visit and search regime" for ships going into the Montenegrin ports of Bar and Kotor Bay.
NATO officials said a final plan could be approved as early as next week.
NATO accuses Yugoslavia's Serb leadership of carrying out a campaign against the ethnic Albanian majority in Kosovo, a province of Serbia. About a third of the province's population has fled Yugoslavia in the last month.
"Images of burned hopes and destroyed villages recall scenes we had hoped we would never see again," NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana said Friday in opening the summit. "Milosevic must know there is no place for his policy in Europe on the eve of the 21st century."
NATO's air war seeks to force Milosevic to accept a peace agreement for the province that includes the safe return of refugees and an international peacekeeping force to protect them. It is that provision that Yugoslav officials have rejected, comparing it to occupation.
Reports that NATO is preparing for a ground attack have circulated widely in recent weeks, but Shea said the air campaign alone is taking a toll on Yugoslavia.
"There is no need to change strategy. That strategy is working," Shea said. "There is no quicker or more feasible option at this time."
German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said Friday the issue of whether to send ground troops to Kosovo had been taken off NATO's agenda for the time being.
"The debate on ground troops is no longer on the table," he told reporters. "There will be no change in the strategy."
The U.S. and Britain, meanwhile, turned aside a report from former Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin that Milosevic has accepted the placement of an "international presence in Kosovo under U.N. auspices."
The agreement calls for "the participation of Russia," Russian news agency Itar-Tass said, but it did not spell out whether the "international presence" would be military or civilian. Nor did it say whether NATO-member countries would be involved.
Yugoslav sources told CNN the plan calls for an "unarmed presence" that would exclude NATO countries -- with the possible exception of Greece, which has not participated in the NATO campaign.
An aide to Chernomyrdin said his boss' remarks had been misinterpreted by some.
Valentin Sergeyev insisted that Chernomyrdin hadn't been talking about an armed military force but only about "people dressed in military uniform" as part of an otherwise civilian mission, the ITAR-Tass news agency reported.
"Obviously, we welcome the Russian efforts to try to achieve a diplomatic settlement here, but so far we have not seen much Serb flexibility," Bacon said.
Shea, meanwhile, said any peacekeeping force "has got to be a robust force. This has got to be a force that works."
Otherwise, he said, it would end up being an observer mission that does not have the confidence of the Kosovars it is supposed to protect.
"So NATO would, yes, like to constitute the core of that force. We have demonstrated in Bosnia that we can do the job," he said.
CNN INDEPTH SPECIAL SECTION:
Serbian TV knocked off the air in intense attack
Extensive list of Kosovo-related sites
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