U.N. team begins humanitarian mission in Yugoslavia
May 17, 1999
BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (CNN) -- A U.N. exploratory mission, the first of its kind since NATO began its bombing campaign in Yugoslavia, was in Belgrade Monday to assess humanitarian needs throughout the embattled country.
Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic has reportedly agreed to meet with the 15-member team before it leaves the capital.
The delegation, which arrived in Belgrade Sunday, is scheduled to spend 10 days getting a firsthand look at the situation in Yugoslavia -- including Kosovo.
"We are worried about the hundreds of thousands that are said to be on the move in that province," team leader Sergio Vieira de Mello said Sunday. "It's the first time we are able to embark in this kind of way, and right in the middle of a war. We are determined to do as professional a job as possible."
NATO began a relentless bombing campaign 55 days ago to force Milosevic to accept an international peace plan that included the safe return of ethnic Albanians forced from their homes in Kosovo.
Yugoslavia charges that the bombing itself has forced the Kosovars to flee, while NATO says that the Serbs have engaged in systematic "ethnic cleansing" of the region.
On Monday, Serb troops kept some 2,000 ethnic Albanians from disembarking from a train at the Macedonian border. An elderly man who was allowed to get off the train and cross into Macedonia told authorities he had seen the train turn around and head back into Kosovo.
"We are not sure why the Serbs are not allowing people off," said Ron Redmond, a spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. "They can turn this off and on like a tap."
Serb officials said the train might be allowed to return later in the day.
The air campaign took a decided downturn Monday -- down from around 600 sorties daily to just 343. NATO said bad weather forced the cancellation of most flights, but Yugoslavia said heavy anti-aircraft fire had turned away the NATO planes.
Serb TV showed video of an unmanned German drone it said was shot down over Yugoslavia. NATO confirmed the loss of a drone.
Serb media also said that explosions were heard near the town of Cacak, 70 miles (113 km) south of Belgrade, and attacks came near the town of Uzice, 75 miles (121 km) southwest of Belgrade, and near Kraljevo in central Serbia.
NATO said that attacks took place in southwest Kosovo. Targets included Serb armor, military vehicles, artillery positions and the airfield at Sjenica.
In other developments:
Correspondents Matthew Chance and Tom Mintier contributed to this report.
U.N. delegation heading to Yugoslavia
Extensive list of Kosovo-related sites:
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