Kosovo Albanian leader Rugova in Rome for talks
May 5, 1999
ROME (CNN) -- Kosovo Albanian leader Ibrahim Rugova arrived in Rome with his family Wednesday from Yugoslavia, and began talks at a villa with Italy's premier and foreign minister, officials said.
Western governments believe Rugova has virtually been under house arrest in Yugoslavia since NATO air strikes began March 24. He had been seen only a few times -- on television with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic -- and Western observers believe the appearances were either staged or dated.
Rugova, who was chosen "president" of Kosovo by an unofficial vote of the Serb province's ethnic Albanians, arrived on a special flight from Yugoslavia and was greeted by Italian Cabinet Undersecretary Marco Minniti.
Premier Massimo D'Alema, Foreign Minister Lamberto Dini and Rugova strolled together outside the villa before starting early evening talks. Tight security was ordered for Rugova and his family during his stay.
'We welcome the fact that he can travel'
Rugova and his family are guests of the Italian government, D'Alema's office said, adding that Rome informed NATO, the U.S. government and European Union officials about the trip.
In Brussels, a NATO official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: "We welcome the fact that he can travel. We hope that he will be able to speak freely."
Rugova is considered the father of the Democratic League of Kosovo, although his nonviolent approach to Kosovar independence was overshadowed by the aggressive stance of the Kosovo Liberation Army.
Rugova reportedly has held a series of meetings in Belgrade with Serbian officials, aimed at finding a political settlement to the Kosovo crisis. Western officials have expressed interest in speaking with the moderate leader.
Humanitarian convoy attacked inside Kosovo
Rugova's arrival in Italy occurred the same day that NATO suffered its first fatalities of the Yugoslavia campaign, and a relief convoy carrying medical supplies was attacked inside Kosovo.
The Greek ambassador to Yugoslavia said a four-vehicle mission of the Greek branch of Doctors of the World was on its way from Macedonia to the Kosovo capital, Pristina, when it came under attack by air. No injuries were reported.
The aircraft involved could not be identified, but Yugoslav Foreign Ministry spokesman Nebjosa Vujovic called the attack "a new NATO crime" aimed at undermining a peaceful solution to the Kosovo crisis.
At NATO's Wednesday briefing, military spokesman Gen. Walter Jertz denied NATO was responsible for the attack.
"We did not attack any convoy from Greece or anywhere else, because we are not going to attack civilian targets," Jertz said.
In Albania, two American soldiers were killed early Wednesday when their Apache attack helicopter crashed while on a training mission about 75 kilometers northeast of Tirana- Rinas Airport.
NATO Supreme CommanderGen. Wesley Clark said there was "no indication of hostile fire" and that the cause of the crash was under investigation.
The Apaches, known as "tank-killers," have not yet been authorized to fly combat missions in Yugoslavia. NATO lost another Apache in an Albanian training mission last month.
NATO attacks target power supplies
Meanwhile, NATO reported that Operation Allied Force attacks on Yugoslavia were hurting Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's military capabilities.
"(Serb forces) are now essentially avoiding NATO power," Clark said at a news briefing Wednesday in Brussels. "They are limiting their movement, they are limiting their activities. They are limiting their resupply, they are trying to do everything they can to reduce their vulnerability, because when they are seen, they are hit, and when they are hit, they are killed."
Yugoslav officials said Wednesday that their nationwide power system had "partially collapsed." Sixty percent of the country, the officials told CNN's Alessio Vinci, is without electricity.
Clark said that was part of the plan to limit Milosevic's ability to command his troops in the field.
"We've hit at his power plants because they're essential to running every part of his military machine," Clark said, "and this has proven to be effective."
But, said NATO spokesman Jamie Shea, paramilitary "thugs" are still conducting ethnic cleansing operations in Kosovo.
Rome Bureau Gayle Young and Correspondent Alessio Vinci contributed to this report.
Clinton heads to Europe for NATO bombing update
Extensive list of Kosovo-related sites:
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