NATO mulls building up peacekeeping force in Macedonia
May 21, 1999
BRUSSELS, Belgium (CNN) -- Despite calls to review the way NATO selects its targets in Yugoslavia, the alliance said Friday there were no plans to change its strategy, although it is considering a rapid build-up of peacekeeping troops in the Balkans.
The Pentagon is pushing for a force of about 45,000 to 50,000 troops, far more than an initial estimate of 28,000, to enforce the peace in Kosovo once an agreement is reached with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. NATO currently has deployed 13,000 troops to Macedonia to serve in the future Kosovo implementation force, known as KFOR.
"We're going to need a larger KFOR, and we want it deployed to Macedonia as quickly as possible," said Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon. "Should there be a peace agreement quickly, as we hope, we need a force that's ready to go in and help the refugees get back as the Serb forces pull out."
U.S. support for building up forces around Kosovo came after NATO's top military commander, Gen. Wesley Clark, asked for such a force in closed-door meetings in Washington this week, sources said.
The Pentagon denied that the move represented any shift toward deploying an invasion force if no peace agreement is reached.
"Gen. Clark made no request for the deployment of ground troops and no request for any change in NATO's policy," U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen said in a statement.
Meanwhile, NATO highlighted new signs of dissent within Yugoslavia on Friday while downplaying reports of cracks within its own ranks -- including a call by a top German official to rethink NATO's target list.
NATO said dissidents in Yugoslavia could push Milosevic to accept NATO's demands and end the war.
"Milosevic is in the corner, and that's where he's going to be kept by NATO until he throws in the towel," said NATO spokesman Jamie Shea.
But bad weather forced the cancellation of most airstrikes Friday, including all attacks against the Yugoslav army in Kosovo, said Air Marshal Sir John Day, Britain's deputy chief of staff.
NATO pilots continued to hit support and supply targets in Serbia, including a surface-to-air missile support facility in Belgrade; fuel stocks at Sombor, Smederevo and the Batajnica airfield on the outskirts of Belgrade; and ammunition depots at Vrdnik and Sremska Mitrovica.
NATO also struck a Yugoslav prison at Istok, where prisoners from the Kosovo Liberation Army reportedly were being held. A Yugoslav news agency said 19 people were killed in that attack, including a deputy warden.
NATO officials described the Istok strike as a raid against a "security complex," which Maj. Gen. Walter Jertz, NATO's military spokesman, described as "militarily significant." He said no details were immediately available.
Yugoslavia repeated its hope for a diplomatic settlement to the airstrikes, which began March 24. Yugoslav Foreign Ministry spokesman Nebojsa Vujovic said NATO must end its air raids before talks could begin.
"We are open to a peaceful solution, open to diplomatic negotiations. We are open to playing a constructive role in reaching a political solution on Kosovo," Vujovic said. But first, he added, "This aggression should halt immediately."
NATO says the bombing will stop only when Yugoslavia withdraws its troops from Kosovo. NATO also wants Yugoslavia to grant the province autonomy; allow the return of hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanian refugees; and accept an international peacekeeping force led by NATO countries.
Vujovic said Yugoslav troops are trying to withdraw from Kosovo, but their withdrawal was hampered by the bombing campaign. NATO dismisses the withdrawal as a token move.
Shea, meanwhile, said internal dissent combined with pressure from NATO governments was pushing Milosevic's government closer to a settlement.
Shea cited accounts of desertions from Yugoslav army units, demonstrations against the war by soldiers' families and a letter from a citizens' group urging Milosevic to bring the war to an end. He said a nascent anti-war movement represents "healthy shoots of civil society and democratic pluralism" in Yugoslavia.
In the Montenegrin town Cetinje, some 5,000 people -- almost one-third of the population -- on Friday protested the recent Yugoslav army reinforcements around their city and demanded the military withdraw.
Up to 1,300 Yugoslav army reservists, most from Serbia, arrived in Cetinje last week. Mayor Savo Paraca said artillery units turned their weapons' barrels toward the town and that the army set up checkpoints on all roads leading to Cetinje.
"The siege is tightening around Cetinje, but they will not frighten us," Paraca said. "We are telling the army today that it is not welcome in our city. We are aware of Milosevic's insane policies and the devastation of the country ... and we don't want to participate in it."
Reacting to the protests, Zoran Zizic, a top official of the pro-Milosevic National Peoples Party, told Yugoslavia's state-run Tanjug news agency that it is up to the army to deploy its troops wherever it wants.
Thursday's NATO strikes hit a hospital and damaged the Swedish and Spanish embassy compounds in Belgrade, Yugoslavia's capital, while a Friday raid damaged the home of the Swiss ambassador during a diplomatic reception, leaving guests diving for cover. German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said those incidents and others created "a need for urgent talks" about the alliance's target selection.
"It is not only because of the incidents with the Swiss, Swedish, and Spanish embassies. There is an urgent need for discussions," Fischer said.
Fischer's comments reflect some unease within Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's center-left coalition about the air war, Germany's first military action since World War II. And coming a day after Italian Prime Minister Massimo D'Alema suggested the time for a temporary bombing halt may be near, they raised questions about the solidarity of NATO as the war approaches its two-month mark.
Shea said the alliance must always listen to its member nations, but said no country has asked NATO to rethink its targets.
"This alliance is rock-solid, and I haven't heard anything from anybody to suggest the opposite," Shea said.
He said NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana had apologized to the countries whose embassies were affected "for any inconvenience that may have been caused."
Meanwhile, a top U.S. diplomat said Friday that he would return to Moscow for more talks with Russian mediators and Finland's president after discussions late Thursday.
Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott held meetings with Viktor Chernomyrdin, Russia's special envoy on the Balkans, and with Finnish President Martii Ahtisaari, the European Union special envoy.
"The talks are sufficiently constructive and serious that we're going to continue them. President Ahtisaari and I have accepted an invitation from Mr. Chernomyrdin to return next week. So we're continuing them," Talbott told CNN.
He offered few specifics on the discussions, which were held over dinner in the Russian capital as Chernomyrdin briefed them on his talks Wednesday in Belgrade with Milosevic.
Talbott told U.S. officials in Washington he was "moderately encouraged" because Milosevic had agreed that the peace plan worked out by Russia and the seven leading industrialized nations should be the foundation for future discussions.
Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov was scheduled to host his own round of discussions Friday with Talbott, Carl Bildt -- the U.N. special representative on Kosovo -- and with Greek diplomats.
NATO pounds Belgrade for second straight day
Extensive list of Kosovo-related sites:
|Back to the top||
© 2001 Cable News Network. All Rights Reserved.|
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines.