|OPERATION ALLIED FORCE|
April 2, 1999
| JIM LEHRER: This was
the tenth day of NATO action over Kosovo. Three captured American soldiers
continued to face an uncertain fate. Allied fighter jets and bombers were
said to be flying deep into Kosovo, attacking Yugoslav forces and supply
lines. And ethnic Albanians not trapped by combat continued arriving at
neighboring countries by the thousands. Many of them were turned away
by border authorities. Tom Bearden again has our opening summary report.
TOM BEARDEN: Human misery on an almost incomprehensible scale; tens of thousands of people huddled together like cattle in a river bottom, shivering in the cold rain. This is Blace, Madeconia, one of the crossings along the southern border of Kosovo where refugees are trying to find shelter, food, and safety. This huge crowd is caught in a cruel bottleneck because the area has been so inundated with people there is simply no place for them to go. NATO says people were so quickly and violently evicted from their homes that many lack shoes. Women have given birth under these conditions. Elderly people are dying. Shortages have driven some people over the edge. A Reuters photographer described fights breaking out over a single piece of bread. And still more are coming. NATO estimates that there is a six-mile-long line of 25,000 people waiting to cross the frontier into Macedonia. And Macedonia is not the only place this is happening. Some 10,000 people have been spotted on a snow-covered mountainside in the neighboring country of Albania, and the government has issued an SOS to the world to come to its aid.
JOHN CAMPBELL, UNHCR Field Officer: We have been here for 24 hours now and some two and a half thousand people have crossed. They are all crossing on foot because it's not a vehicle crossing. And they are coming in from Jakova, which is ten kilometers away. But it's an uphill climb all the way. And by the time they get here, they are exhausted.
TOM BEARDEN: It's taking a painfully long time for them to cross. Border guards are taking their names and other information, and some have been sleeping by the roadside for days. International aid workers say more trainloads of people are arriving, too.
FLAKA SURROI, UNICEF: It is the most humiliating thing that could happen to a human being, being expelled from its own land. How is it like -- it's "Schindler's List." Whoever saw the movie, it's exactly that feeling. The only difference is that I could open the window. And I could see my land fading away in the dark. The people of "Schindler's List" could not. But yet you could not move. I mean, you had to pack yourself into the train and just be there standing for over four hours to reach this place and then walk another kilometer maybe from the place where the train stops.
TOM BEARDEN: There isn't much for these people when they finally do arrive: some canned baby food, bread, plastic bottles of water. But many are completely exposed to the elements. Macedonia's deputy foreign minister says the international community isn't doing enough. He said only 300 tents had been sent so far. International aid is beginning to arrive by air, and Italian troops who landed on Wednesday have been moving forward to provide logistical help. President Clinton called leaders of government and private aid agencies to the White House today to assess the US response. Since last year, the US has sent $91 million in aid to the region, and earlier this week the President authorized another $50 million.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: The humanitarian situation, as all of you know, remains grave in Kosovo. Since last year, nearly one in three people there have been pushed from their homes. While many people are arriving in neighboring countries, and Macedonia and Albania are especially burdened, we are able to provide help there, although we need more countries to join us in providing help there. We must be increasingly concerned about the plight of displaced people who are actually trapped inside Kosovo and are under attack or certainly vulnerable to attack by Serbian forces. That is why our air strikes are now increasingly focused on military targets there. There's no doubt that what Mr. Milosevic wants to do is to keep the land of Kosovo and rid it of its people. We cannot let that happen with impunity.
TOM BEARDEN: Meanwhile, the US is trying to deal with the uncertainties swirling around the fate of three US servicemen who were captured on the Macedonia-Yugoslav border yesterday. State Department Spokesman James Rubin was concerned that the Serbian authorities had not allowed third-party access to the prisoners.
JAMES RUBIN, State Department Spokesman: We are deeply troubled that the protecting power and the ICRC, to our knowledge, have not had access to these people who were illegally abducted. We have contacted the Swedes in order to try to get protecting access power to them through the Department, through diplomatic channels, but they have not been able to obtain that access.
TOM BEARDEN: There was confusion over whether the Serbs were going ahead with their announced intention to put the soldiers on trial. The official Yugoslav news agency said evidence was being gathered for criminal proceedings, and that the soldiers had appeared in a court. But the Yugoslav information minister said he did not know if they would be tried by a military court. The NATO armada of more than 400 aircraft continued air strikes, mostly against Southern Kosovo. Air Commodore David Wilby showed nose cone video of a NATO missile striking a Danube River bridge the night before last, disputing Serbian claims of collateral damage to civilian structures.
DAVID WILBY, Royal Air Force: Weather again hampered our operations, but again, did not prevent us from hitting the full spectrum of targets, using both aircraft and missile platforms. Numerous infrastructure targets, including bridges, were struck to limit the ability of the army and the special police to resupply their forces. We also attacked several staging areas and headquarters facilities. The first two clips are attacks against an airfield and are part of a coordinated, multi-aircraft attack. On the second clip, you will see the results of the first attack over in the left-hand quadrant. The next shot is of another airfield, home of the fighter bombers, which have been engaged in operations in Kosovo. The next video is of an army facility. This complex is significant in that it is the support base of the 243rd Mechanized Brigade, currently operating in the Pagorusa Valley. It is also a base for the MUP special police detachment. It will give you an interesting view taken from the front of the weapon, rather than the aircraft.
TOM BEARDEN: NATO Spokesman Jamie Shea said the Serbian population of Yugoslavia is beginning to feel the effects of the air campaign.
JAMIE SHEA, NATO Spokesman: And we see now increasing signs over the last few days shortages of fuel, even bread becoming increasingly scarce. Diesel has disappeared almost entirely because it's all going to the military effort, even though the government has tried to explain this by saying that it's gone to the agricultural sector. There is now a call-up, increasing call-ups going out towards males between 18 and 60 who are not able to leave the country; as a result, the reports of confiscations of passports as well. I'm going to be examining this. I think it's something worth examining as well, because, as I've tried to point out in these briefings, the consequences for what is happening in Kosovo is, first and foremost, of course, a tragedy for the Kosovar Albanians, but I think there are also signs that this is hardly serving the other peoples of Yugoslavia either.
TOM BEARDEN: In the face of mounting criticism that the air campaign has failed to halt the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo, President Clinton was asked if he still believed that ground troops should not be introduced.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: I still believe that we have a good possibility of achieving our mission with the means that we have deployed. Remember, we have been at this for a week. I see all of you, and I don't blame you for doing this because everybody's trying to get their hands around a very complex problem, referring to Desert Storm or other historical analogies. Is this like the Persian Gulf, is this like Vietnam? What is this like? Is it like what happened in World War II? Let me remind you, for those people who talk about ground forces, the ground forces that were deployed in the Middle East were deployed after the objective had been achieved by Saddam Hussein, after he had captured Kuwait. It took, as I remember, maybe more than five months to do the preparatory deployment before any action could be taken. So this air campaign has been much more rapid in getting up and getting underway than any sort of ground operation could be. And it seems to me we have a real obligation to try to keep the NATO allies together and to vigorously pursue this. We are making the air campaign more intense, we are adding targets. We are keeping the NATO allies together. And I believe we have quite a good chance of achieving our objectives of the return of the Kosovars to live in security with the measure of self-government that they enjoyed under the old Yugoslav constitution before Mr. Milosevic took it away from them. And I believe that is what we should continue to do.