Yugoslavia trying to reinforce its army
May 31, 1999
BRUSSELS, Belgium (CNN) -- Yugoslavia's attempt to reinforce its army in Kosovo against a new push by ethnic Albanian rebels is making it easier for NATO to hit Yugoslav forces in the Serbian province, the alliance said Monday.
Meanwhile, Yugoslavia said recent NATO raids had left many civilians dead, including several at a sanatorium and retirement home in southern Serbia. That report came a day after NATO hit a bridge in central Serbia in a strike local officials said killed 12 people.
As NATO planes strike Yugoslav troops and equipment in Kosovo, the rebel Kosovo Liberation Army has occupied three villages in recent days and is fighting for control of a strategic mountain near the Albanian border, said Col. Konrad Freytag, NATO's military spokesman.
The mountain is high ground overlooking the approaches to some of southern Kosovo's major towns, including Prizren and Djakovica and Suva Reka, Freytag said.
"NATO aircraft are taking advantage of this opportunity to attack the now more prominent concentration of military equipment," he said.
Yugoslavia's refusal to end a campaign against the KLA, which wants independence for the region, and its reported campaign against ethnic Albanian civilians prompted the NATO air war in the Balkans.
Yugoslavia is defying NATO air power in an attempt to reinforce its army in Kosovo, which allied estimates put at about 40,000 troops at the war's outset, Freytag said.
"Yesterday, NATO struck some of those replacements on the road to Kosovo, a total of seven artillery pieces," he said.
The allies have tried to distance themselves from the KLA throughout the conflict. The rebel group wants independence for the province, while NATO's war aims call only for Kosovo to have autonomy within Yugoslavia.
But NATO's attacks have forced Yugoslav troops to pull back from several areas and limited their mobility, alliance spokesman Jamie Shea said.
"If the UCK are able to benefit by that, so be it," Shea said, using the rebel group's Albanian acronym.
NATO's targets in Kosovo on Monday included 12 tanks, six armored personnel carriers and two mortar positions, plus other vehicles and troops in the field, Freytag said.Other targets included:
New civilian deaths reported
New reports of civilian deaths came Monday as Serbian media reported at least 20 people were killed when NATO bombs hit a sanatorium and retirement home in Surdulica, in southeastern Serbia.
NATO said it could not confirm any civilian deaths, saying only it had attacked a military barracks and ammunition depot near the city.
Freytag said no bombs went astray in that attack, and Shea replied to reporters' questions about the attack with a litany of his own numbers -- more than 1.3 million Kosovars displaced or forced to flee the country, more than 6,000 killed and 10 possible mass graves spotted by NATO reconnaissance.
"That is the generation of Milosevic's bullets, not NATO's bombs," he said.
The deaths reported in Surdulica came a day after local officials reported 12 killed in a NATO raid on the Varvarin bridge over the Velika Morava River. NATO defended its attack on the bridge.
"This was a major line of communication and a designated and legitimate target," NATO said in a statement from its supreme commander, Gen. Wesley Clark.
As Russian envoy Viktor Chernomyrdin prepared for another trip to Belgrade in search of a negotiated settlement, Yugoslavia repeated Monday that it has accepted the Group of Eight nations' principles for ending the two-month NATO air war against it.
A U.N. Security Council resolution "should enable the transfer of the resolution of the crisis from the military to the political sphere," the state news agency Tanjug announced Monday.
The statement reiterates one made last week after talks between Milosevic and Chernomyrdin. But NATO says the details, not the general principles, are what matters.
The G-8 points include an immediate end to ethnic violence and repression in Kosovo; the withdrawal of Yugoslav forces from the province; the deployment of an international security presence led by NATO; establishment of an interim administration for the province; and the safe return of refugees.
Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari is hoping to accompany Chernomyrdin to Belgrade on Wednesday, according to Finnish officials. Ahtisaari's plans are expected to be announced after a Tuesday meeting in Bonn among the three international envoys on Kosovo -- Chernomyrdin, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott and Ahtisaari.
The meeting will be the first for the three representatives since Chernomyrdin traveled to Belgrade last Friday for talks with Milosevic.
Russian Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin is quoted by Interfax news agency as saying "real prospects" have appeared for solving the Kosovo crisis. He made the comment after meeting with President Boris Yeltsin Monday morning.
Shea said Ahtisaari "shares the position of the allies" in wanting to see Yugoslavia agree to details of the plan.
NATO says bridge was legitimate target
Extensive list of Kosovo-related sites:
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