NATO pounds Yugoslavia ahead of expected diplomatic mission
June 2, 1999
BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (CNN) -- NATO attacks pressed forward early Wednesday, pounding targets across Yugoslavia ahead of anticipated talks between Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and two envoys that could result in a peace settlement to the Kosovo crisis.
Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, the European Union's representative on Kosovo diplomacy, and Viktor Chernomyrdin, Russia's special envoy to the Balkans, are expected to travel to Belgrade Wednesday to present a Kosovo peace proposal to Milosevic.
Calling the trip "highly likely," a source close to the negotiations in Bonn says Chernomyrdin and Ahtisaari were to meet this morning before heading off to Belgrade, but that "nothing is sure until the meeting is over."
In Washington, officials said Ahtisaari is to take a detailed peace plan to answer any questions Milosevic might have. The meeting would mark the first direct talks involving a Western leader with Milosevic since the NATO bomb campaign began March 24.
"We have now come to the point when the clarity has to be sought from Yugoslavia," Ahtisaari told reporters.
By late Tuesday, powerful explosions rocked the Belgrade suburbs of Batajnica, where a military airport is located, and Lipovicka Suma, home to a communications center.
Military barracks in Obrenovac, near Belgrade, was hit during the raids, and power was out through much of the Yugoslav capital.
There were reports of attacks in Pancevo, Nis, Yugoslavia's third largest city, and the Kosovo capital of Pristina as well as in the Serb towns of Cuprija and Ruma. Studio B also said a key highway between Pancevo and Belgrade was hit.
'Substantial progress' on diplomatic front
A top Yugoslav general reportedly said Tuesday a political solution to the Kosovo conflict was in sight, but he predicted tough negotiations ahead on key issues.
The Yugoslav army also said the country's former air force commander Gen. Ljubisa Velickovic had been killed while visiting troops "in the front line." It was unclear if he died from a NATO bombing raid.
Despite "substantial progress" on the diplomatic front, NATO pledged the attacks would continue until the "political masters" reach an agreement.
Earlier, Chernomyrdin and Ahtisaari huddled in Bonn, Germany, meeting for hours with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder to discuss the Kosovo conflict.
The diplomats emerged during a break in the talks to announce the mission to Belgrade. Schroeder reported "substantial progress in the talks concerning all questions" and Talbott added that the two envoys have "exceedingly hard hard work ahead of them" in Belgrade.
Details of the proposal were not immediately released, but Ahtisaari said the goals were well-known.
"I think it's fair to say at this stage we will be prepared to go and find out whether the Yugoslav leadership is prepared to accept the peace offer. The details of that peace offer have been spelled out in the different decisions of NATO, the European Union, G-8 and also endorsed by the Secretary-General of the United Nations."
Ahtisaari 'armed with detail'
In Washington, State Department spokesman James Rubin said Ahtisaari will be armed "with sufficient detail" to answer any questions from Milosevic about NATO's terms and principles it wants Yugoslavia to accept before it will agree to a bombing halt -- even though Finland is not a NATO member.
Among the questions Ahtisaari would be prepared to answer -- What is the rapid and precise timetable necessary for Serb forces to withdraw from Kosovo? Who decides if the Serbs are really withdrawing. What would be the composition of the international peacekeeping contingent?
The specifics of the Serb troop withdrawal and makeup of the peacekeepers have been the two main stumbling blocks in talks thus far.
Asked if Russia was ready to accept NATO participation at the core of the peacekeeping force, Chernomyrdin told reporters, "We're discussing all issues concerning the position of this problem." He added that Russia "has decided to take part" in the operation.
U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in Washington reiterated that NATO must be at the core of a peace implementation force.
"We believe that Milosevic has got to abide by those," she said.
Waiting for word from 'political masters'
In a report by Yugoslavia's Beta news agency, Gen. Nebojsa Pavkovic, commander of the Third Army, was quoted as saying that his country had accepted all the principles of a peace deal as set out by the G-8 nations, the seven Western industrial powers and Russia.
But he added that these conditions were "of course modified in only two key points: regarding the withdrawal of army and police from Kosovo and presence of international peacekeeping forces."
Pavkovic said Yugoslavia wanted to keep the level of forces it had in the province before the NATO airstrikes on March 24 at 25,000 troops and police.
Meanwhile, Yugoslav Federal Minister Goran Matic criticized NATO for intensifying the bombings during critical junctures of diplomacy.
"Every time that the negotiations reached an important point, the bombing was intensified," Matic said.
At NATO's daily press briefing, Maj. Gen. Walter Jertz said the bombings would not ease for now.
"The bombing will not be halted. We have to continue until we finally have the word from Milosevic and all the other ingredients which we need to really stop bombing. But the air campaign will continue, and then political masters will decide and we military will obey," he said.
NATO pounds Serb forces
NATO on Wednesday morning said it struck hard at Serb forces deployed in Kosovo, destroying a significant amount of artillery during Day 70 of Operation Allied Force.
NATO aircraft struck at least 32 pieces of artillery, nine armoured personnel carriers, eight mortar positions, six armoured vehicles, four other military vehicles, a SA-6 SAM site and assorted revetted positions. The heaviest strikes against Serb forces in Kosovo took place in the vicinity of Planeja and Mount Pastrik.
Other targets hit included an electric power transmission tower near Belgrade, a military barracks at Obrenovac, and an air defense command center at Novi Sad
Also hit were AM radio broadcast stations at Ruma and Srbobran, a TV/FM relay site at Banjska, a radio relay site at Novi Pazar, bridges in Pirot, a petroleum refueling station at Marash, a petroleum storage site at Sombor and an ammunitions storage site at Kursumlija.
NATO aircraft flew at total of 575 sorties, including 197 strike sorties and 70 enemy air defense suppression missions. The weather in the operating region was mixed on Tuesday, leading to the cancellation of some sorties. All NATO aircraft returned safely. Allied Force operations are under way on Day 71.
NATO, KLA cooperation?
Serb forces and Kosovo Liberation Army troops battled Tuesday along Albania's border with the southern Serb province of Kosovo. Earlier, reporters watched a NATO A-10 jet drop a bomb in the hills just over the Albanian side of the border crossing at Morini.
In that attack, an Albanian army officer told The Associated Press that NATO destroyed government bunkers by mistake.
Huge craters, the work of NATO planes, dotted the landscape along the border, CNN's Martin Savidge reported from the scene, along with bomb fragments bearing English inscriptions -- the first physical evidence of NATO air support for KLA ground forces seeking independence for Kosovo.
But NATO spokesman Jamie Shea said in Brussels that NATO and the KLA have no "direct contact," although their independent actions could possibly be beneficial to each other.
The Morini border crossing is the scene of intense fighting as the KLA conducts a major push to open new supply corridors into Kosovo.
Russian, EU envoys to propose peace deal to Milosevic
Extensive list of Kosovo-related sites:
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