|KOSOVO: Day 27|
April 19, 1999
JIM LEHRER: Yugoslavia today closed the main exit today for ethnic Albanians fleeing Kosovo. Relief agencies said thousands of refugees may be stranded without food and shelter. NATO bombarded a variety of targets in Serbia despite bad weather, and modified its explanation of last week's air strike that killed Kosovar civilians. Tom Bearden has our summary of the day's events.
TOM BEARDEN: Last week, television screens around the world were filled with these pictures, the purported aftermath of a NATO air strike on a convoy of refugees in Kosovo. Yugoslav state-controlled media claimed the attack killed 80 people. Yugoslavian authorities escorted western reporters to the scene 24 hours later, where they photographed blown-up tractors and the bodies of ethnic Albanians. NATO immediately conceded that its planes might have struck in error. But today, in a special briefing in Brussels, US Air Force Brigadier General Dan Leaf said Yugoslavia may have doctored the scene. General Leaf detailed two attacks that took place in the same vicinity where the pictures were shot. The first was on a vehicle an F-16 pilot believed was being used to torch houses.
BRIGADIER GENERAL DAN LEAF: He watched a vehicle leave one house that was burning, and then proceed to another house further down the road. That house then erupted in flames. Individuals ran from the burning house, got in the vehicle, and drove to yet another house. At this point, he concluded that the occupants of this vehicle were perpetrating the house burnings. It was only then that he elected to attack the vehicle. He struck the vehicle with a single GVU-12 laser-guided bomb.
TOM BEARDEN: A few minutes later, another F-16 discovered a large 100-vehicle convoy, and several more bombs were dropped.
BRIGADIER GENERAL DAN LEAF: The 24-hour delay in showing the large convoy to the press would have allowed sufficient time for Serb forces to remove any military vehicles or personnel from the area, and we simply cannot verify exactly what type of vehicles were struck by whom. In fact, some reporters have also indicated that the victims in the convoy attack appeared to have been machine-gunned, not bombed.
TOM BEARDEN: General Leaf emphasized the difficulty of identifying targets from aircraft flying at high speed and at altitudes of 15,000 feet or more. That's why the US is sending Apache attack helicopters to the region, where they are expected to go into combat next week. NATO hopes they will be able to more effectively engage Serbian ground forces, which are said to be very effectively concealing themselves from attack jets. NATO General Giuseppe Marani said the Yugoslav forces frequently use such tactics.
BRIGADIER GENERAL GIUSEPPE MARANI: Yesterday we discussed the difficulty of attacking military targets close to civilian facilities. This picture shows a fighter aircraft parked close to a civilian aircraft at Belgrade airfield in order to prevent NATO targeting. Actually, it's not close, but it's underneath the tail of the civilian aircraft.
TOM BEARDEN: NATO said the air campaign had an excellent weekend, the number of air strikes reaching their highest levels since operation allied force began. Not so last night.
BRIGADIER GENERAL GIUSEPPE MARANI: As I stated, poor weather restricted attacks against fielded forces in Kosovo; however, strategic targeting continued. You will be aware that Serb forces continue ethnic cleansing. These graphics show more civilian buildings burning in the village of Rakaj. Once again, there has been no NATO action near this village. It's not that easy to see, but you can see the flames in white. Finally, this composite picture shows the possible mass grave sites at Izbica and Bustoselo. As we stated yesterday, the similarities between the two sites can be seen, and the difference between what we have seen in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
TOM BEARDEN: NATO has been hammering Yugoslavia's oil refineries for three weeks. Now the US is moving to cut off oil reportedly flowing through a seaport in Montenegro. But State Department Spokesman James Rubin said the US was not seeking a formal blockade, which, in legal terms, is an act of war.
JAMES RUBIN: I think that an example of a way to go about this is a regime of some kind, of a visit and search of ships, which would enable one to distinguish between products that would fuel the Yugoslav war machine and other kinds of products. So that's certainly an example of a way to go about it, but we haven't settled on the exact approach. Remember, we're consulting with 18 other countries in NATO to try to pursue this, and so, that is something we will continue to pursue in Brussels.
TOM BEARDEN: On the diplomatic front, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said he would go to Germany and Russia, seeking an end to the conflict. And Yugoslavia has broken off diplomatic relations with Albania and sealed the main border crossing. Albania said it was stepping up its military defenses, and was prepared for the worst. Finally, this morning President Clinton said he would ask Congress for additional money to keep the Balkan operations going.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: I intend to send the Congress an emergency funding package to pay for our military and humanitarian needs in the operation in Kosovo; to ensure that we have the resources to sustain the air campaign until we achieve our goals, while maintaining our high level of general military readiness; to provide critical humanitarian assistance and relief to the hundreds of thousands of refugee; and to provide for resources for the nations in the region, the neighbors of Kosovo who have suffered so much from the effects of this conflict.
TOM BEARDEN: The President did not mention a specific figure, but aides put it at about $6 billion.