NATO airstrikes press on despite prisoner release
May 2, 1999
"As we welcome our soldiers home, our thoughts also turn to the over 1 million Kosovars who are unable to go home because of the policies of the regime in Belgrade," President Clinton said in a statement.
Clinton said that the NATO airstrikes, which began March 24, would continue unabated until Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic agrees to withdraw troops from the Serbian province of Kosovo and allow ethnic Albanians to return under self-rule with the protection of a NATO-led peacekeeping force.
The president said he was grateful to the Rev. Jesse Jackson, whose personal mission to the Yugoslav capital of Belgrade won freedom for the three prisoners.
Jackson, who is expected to visit the White House later this week, is carrying a letter from Milosevic in which the Yugoslav president reportedly asks to meet Clinton face to face.
Administration officials said such a meeting would be unlikely.
Defense Secretary William Cohen, asked if the U.S. military might reciprocate by releasing two Serb POWs, said: "That may come about at some time."
Cohen also promised that the airstrikes would intensify.
NATO intensifies attacks, starts embargo
The release of the prisoners came as NATO intensified airstrikes against Serb forces in the province of Kosovo and the Yugoslav president's sources of power, including TV transmission stations and military, party and personal headquarters.
NATO spokesman Jamie Shea said Sunday that eight radio relay sites and more than a dozen road and rail bridges were hit.
On Sunday, NATO air raids hammered a major Yugoslav power plant, knocking out power across Serbia, including in Belgrade, senior Yugoslav officials told CNN.
A freshly imposed U.S. embargo on all but food and medicine to Serbia and a European Union ban on oil shipments also is tightening the economic noose.
Chernomyrdin to visit U.S.
Clinton discussed the latest developments in a 15-minute phone conversation Sunday with Russian President Boris Yeltsin, a White House official said.
In talks with Moscow, which opposes the airstrikes, Milosevic has suggested allowing ethnic Albanians to return to Kosovo under protection of a lightly armed U.N.-led force -- proposals the United States and NATO have rejected.
Former Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin will meet Monday with U.S. Vice President Al Gore and Clinton, a presidential spokesman said.
Jackson, congressmen: 'Give peace a chance'
Jackson and some congressional Republicans, meanwhile, urged a pause in the airstrikes in favor of further diplomacy.
From Europe, Jackson said he hoped the release of the three U.S. servicemen "is a diplomatic gesture that will receive, in kind, a diplomatic response."
Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Mississippi) agreed.
"I think as Jesse Jackson would say, give peace a chance here," Lott said on CNN's "Late Edition."
Earlier Sunday, a U.S. representative in Vienna said a delegation of congressmen in the Austrian capital had reached a framework for peace with Russian lawmakers and a Milosevic lieutenant.
Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Pennsylvania) characterized the agreement as a "historic breakthrough," but U.S. and NATO officials expressed skepticism.
Shea said if Milosevic has agreed to NATO conditions, he should say so publicly.
Soldiers receive heroes' welcome in Germany
Meanwhile, the U.S. soldiers, released after 32 days in captivity, were met at Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany with "Welcome Home" signs, U.S. flags and about 200 well-wishers.
Staff Sgt. Andrew Ramirez, 24, of Los Angeles; Staff Sgt. Christopher Stone, 25, of Smiths Creek, Michigan; and Spc. Steven Gonzales, 22, of Huntsville, Texas, were taken into custody March 31 along the Yugoslav-Macedonian border.
They were taken to a military hospital for a medical examination.
Earlier, the three were taken over land from Belgrade to an airport in Zagreb, Croatia. As they waited to board the cargo jet to Germany, the three expressed their appreciation -- as well as their mood.
"Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty we're free at last," all three said.
The former prisoners said they hoped their ordeal would pave the way to an end to the Kosovo crisis.
"I hope that in some way our release will lead to further negotiations for peace," Stone said.
In the United States, family members of the three soldiers were elated at the news of their release and prepared to fly to Ramstein for a reunion.
Correspondents Walter Rodgers, Mike Boettcher, Jim Hill and Ed Garsten contributed to this report.
Two jets crash in Kosovo campaign
Extensive list of Kosovo-related sites:
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