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ATTACKS ON SERBS LIKELY.

Byline: John Donnelly and Richard Parker Knight Ridder Newspapers

The Clinton administration and its European allies moved closer Thursday to launching airstrikes against Serb targets to end the fighting in Kosovo. NATO put its forces on the highest state of alert, and the president's top foreign advisers sought support from U.S. senators for military intervention.

The strategy, said senior administration officials, would be to pummel Serb military targets with a wave of cruise-missile attacks, then take a breather in the expectation that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic would back down. If he doesn't, air attacks would follow. The United States has ruled out using ground troops in Kosovo for the time being.

Meanwhile, in another foreshadowing of a military attack, the State Department issued a travel warning advising Americans to leave Yugoslavia. ``We think the combination of President Milosevic's failure to respond (to international demands) and the possibility of NATO action makes Serbia-Montenegro a more dangerous place,'' said State Department spokesman James Rubin.

The travel advisory said NATO military action ``could be decided upon in the near future.''

It now appears that an attack could be ordered as soon as early next week, said Defense Department officials who requested anonymity. The United Nations Security Council is set to review the situation in Kosovo sometime next week, but a U.S. defense official said NATO may not wait for U.N. authorization.

Administration officials earlier had said an attack could begin as early as this weekend, but America's European allies needed more time to solidify domestic political support.

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, after briefing nearly the entire Senate, said, ``We believe the best solution is a diplomatic solution.'' Even so, ``NATO is now prepared to act.''

Despite the momentum for NATO airstrikes, questions grew inside and outside the Clinton administration about the wisdom of military intervention.

Underscoring the risks, Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Vojislav Seselj threatened on Thursday that NATO ``soldiers will be our targets no matter where they are.''

Many observers, including some U.S. senators, are asking what will happen if Milosevic doesn't back down and the fighting becomes protracted. They also have concerns that the separatist Kosovo Liberation Army would take advantage of NATO airstrikes to escalate its fight against the Serbs. Clinton's top foreign policy advisers briefed the Senate in a private, 2-1/2-hour meeting Thursday.

``If we strike and (Milosevic) keeps killing people, then what?'' said Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss. ``I don't have a lot of faith in this administration, to tell you the truth, when it comes to this type of operation. I'm going to want to ask some real serious questions about an action in Kosovo that has not been thought through.''

Formidable defense

In addition, some Clinton administration officials say Serbia's system of anti-aircraft missiles and air defense artillery would pose a serious threat to NATO pilots. ``This is not an air defense system to be taken lightly,'' said Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon.

Furthermore, said Bill Johnson, an analyst at the Army's Strategic Studies Institute in Carlisle, Pa., the Serbs don't want to relinquish their gains. ``Kosovo is just of such importance to Serbs they can't simply give it up,'' he said. ``They'll do what they can to maintain their hold over it.''

Milosevic began his offensive about seven months ago, after ethnic Albanian separatists killed several Serb police officers. His fierce response throughout the province - 90 percent of Kosovo residents are ethnic Albanians - and the fighting with the Albanian guerrillas has led to more than 800 deaths and the displacement of more than 250,000 people. An estimated 50,000 ethnic Albanians are still living without shelter in the hills of the province - and the first snow has already fallen.

From Washington to the United Nations to European capitals, Western leaders Thursday made the same demands on Milosevic: He must order his troops to stop fighting, recall his forces to their barracks, allow ethnic Albanians to return to their homes and immediately begin negotiations with ethnic Albanians in the Serb province toward giving them autonomy.

There were indications Thursday that some Serb troops were pulling back, but Rubin said he also had reports that fighting raged elsewhere in Kosovo.

Preventing conflict

Samuel Berger, the president's national security adviser, told reporters Thursday that the administration has two ``overriding national interests'' propelling it to support military action. He said one is to prevent the spread of a wider conflict ``from erupting in the middle of Europe, impacting Albania, Italy, Macedonia, on Greece, on Turkey.''

The other reason is humanitarian. If the homeless don't get shelter soon, he said, the situation will become ``grisly.''

``In three or four weeks,'' Berger said, ``we will be in a situation where there will be freezing temperatures and . . . we could be seeing frozen bodies of children and women and men being carried off these hills.''

He said that if the Kosovo Liberation Army (known by its Serbo-Croatian acronym, UCK) took advantage of NATO strikes, ``the effort by NATO would cease. We cannot be the air force for the UCK.''

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Photo: (color) Madeleine Albright
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Oct 2, 1998
Words:850
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