NATO dismisses reports of Yugoslav troop withdrawals
May 13, 1999
BRUSSELS, Belgium (CNN) -- NATO officials cast doubt on Yugoslavia's show of a withdrawal from Kosovo on Thursday, telling reporters that Yugoslav troops there have died in "an exercise in futility."
Diplomatic efforts continued Thursday as well: Russian President Boris Yeltsin, beset by impeachment proceedings in parliament, warned that his country might abandon peace efforts if NATO continues to ignore its pleas to stop the bombing.
A contingent of Yugoslav troops -- about 150 men -- left Kosovo on Thursday, just days after the Yugoslav army announced a withdrawal of half its forces from the Serb province. But Maj. Gen. Walter Jertz, NATO's military spokesman, said the alliance did not believe the movement meant a large number of troops were pulling out.
"However, we strongly believe that effectiveness of our recent air strikes against ground forces in Kosovo has caused some tactical redeployment in the forward areas, probably to seek better refuge or to regroup," he said.
NATO officials estimated there were about 40,000 Yugoslav forces in Kosovo, including some 300 armored vehicles, when the war began March 24.
Yugoslav PresidentSlobodan Milosevic conceded Wednesday that "many" soldiers and special police have been killed during NATO's attacks.
NATO spokesman Jamie Shea said those deaths could have been avoided if Milosevic had agreed to a pact to end the ethnic strife in Kosovo before the NATO bombing campaign began.
"Their bravery and sacrifice were more an exercise in futility than in loyalty and patriotism," he said.
Shea said the partial withdrawal, even if genuine, is not good enough for the allies.
"The only thing that makes sense is a full withdrawal, and that's the only thing we're interested in," he said.
Shea said allied attacks at airfields in Batajnica and Obvra destroyed five Yugoslav aircraft on the ground. He said military communications sites at Kosovska, Novi Sad and Stara Pazova also were hit, and Serbian television reported its transmitter in Novi Sad was hit by NATO missiles.
Serbian television said NATO attacked sites in the southeastern Serb town of Leskovac and Pirot, in eastern Serbia. Serb TV also reported attacks on Pancevo, near Belgrade; Pozarevac, Milosevic's birthplace; and the town of Sabac.
Yugoslav state radio reported that Novi Sad's oil refinery was bombed once again, and several towns in Kosovo were bombed Thursday, including Srbac; a border area between Decani and Djakovica; and Prizren, where bombs exploded near a railway station and a hotel.
NATO has avoided strikes on the Yugoslav capital Belgrade for nearly a week, since the accidental bombing of the Chinese Embassy there killed three people early Saturday. But Shea said that attack -- which NATO blamed on outdated maps -- did not prompt allied air staffs to change their target list.
If NATO is avoiding Belgrade, he said, it's because the alliance has shifted its priorities toward the Yugoslav army in Kosovo, he said.
"If you have already destroyed or severely damaged the Ministry of Defense or (special police) headquarters in Belgrade, you don't have to hit it again," Shea said.
U.N. Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson left the Yugoslav capital on Thursday after a trip to gauge the impact of the war in Yugoslavia.
While recognizing suffering on both sides, Robinson leveled the harshest criticism against Milosevic and his policies in Kosovo, which she described as a campaign against ethnic Albanian civilians.
"It is a devastating pattern of ethnic cleansing. The suffering of the Kosovar Albanians is terrible and direct and cruel," she said. "And the suffering of the civilian population in this country is also very real and very cruel."
Yugoslav officials told Robinson more than 1,200 people have been killed and 5,000 hurt during the fighting. Milosevic did not meet with her despite repeated requests.
French President Jacques Chirac met with Yeltsin on Thursday in Moscow for talks, during which he supported Moscow's efforts to mediate between Belgrade and the West to help resolve the Kosovo crisis.
After meeting with Chirac, Yeltsin reiterated earlier warnings that Russia may halt its diplomatic efforts unless it starts seeing some results.
The Russian president told Chirac that Russia "will have to revise its participation in the negotiating process if NATO continues bombing Yugoslavia despite Russia's active efforts, and if Russian proposals are ignored," the Interfax news agency reported.
Chirac played down such a risk. "We do not at all think that Russia is ready to withdraw from a process which demands its active presence," he said.
Meanwhile, Russian envoy Viktor Chernomyrdin assured U.S. officials Wednesday that if Moscow and Washington reach a peace proposal on Kosovo, China will not veto the plan in the U.N. Security Council.
Chernomyrdin relayed the message to U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, who was in Moscow.
U.S. officials said Chernomyrdin -- just back from Beijing -- told Talbott that Chinese leaders were enraged over the bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade. But, the U.S. sources say, Chernomyrdin also said the Chinese made clear they "would not get in the way" if NATO and the Russians were in agreement on a peace plan.
China has publicly threatened to hold up the proposal if it were submitted to the Security Council, and called for NATO to halt the bombing.
U.S. officials said they were encouraged by Chernomyrdin's report. They also said Chernomyrdin told Talbott he plans to head to Belgrade soon on another diplomatic mission.
NATO presses on with systematic bombing of Milosevic's military
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