|NATO STRIKES - DAY 13|
April 5, 1999
JIM LEHRER: The air war against Yugoslavia intensified today, and so did the refugee crisis. NATO pilots took advantage of clear weather to pound Serbian military targets. International relief agencies rushed to provide food and shelter for refugees, and an airlift began to take them to temporary settlements. Tom Bearden again has our opening summary report.
TOM BEARDEN: It's becoming a race against disease and death. NATO and international relief organizations are desperately trying to address the needs of hundreds of thousands of refugees stranded in cold and muddy no-man's zones on the southern borders of Kosovo. Conditions are appalling, and the United Nations High Commission says still more are coming.
PAULA GHEDINI, UNHCR Spokeswoman: What the new arrivals are indicating is that there may be up to 50,000 coming within the next few days, immediately.
TOM BEARDEN: NATO says this flood of humanity continues because Serbian military and special police forces are still rounding up ethnic Albanian Kosovars and herding them toward the borders, people like this young boy. He says he's from the capital of Kosovo, Pristina; that police separated him from his family, leaving him alone and not knowing where to go. NATO countries are responding with a massive humanitarian air bridge to fly food and other emergency supplies. This afternoon, President Clinton said the US would be a major contributor to that effort.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: We've got to do all we can to aid the victims of Mr. Milosevic's expulsion policy. Before the Serbian offensive began, we pre-positioned 36,000 metric tons of food in the region, enough to feed half a million people for three months. We worked with the United Nations to ready lifesaving supplies at Kosovo's borders in Macedonia, but it is impossible to prepare fully for the chaos that this kind of cruelty inevitably creates. We now have committed another $50 million, over and above the $100 million we had provided before the current crisis. Also, at our urging, NATO has put its 11,000 troops in Macedonia to work addressing the humanitarian crisis. It is planning to destroy -- deploy several thousand troops to Albania, not only to provide aid, but to provide security for relief operations. We've begun shipping 500,000 humanitarian daily rations for refugees in Albania, the first of which arrived in Tirana yesterday. Today, a large shipment was delivered to Italy by the first of eight 747 flights. We'll be flying ten missions daily by C-130 aircraft to Italy -- from Italy to Tirana, and taking supplies from there to the border by helicopter. The first of four shipments of tents for Albania will be flown from Travis Air Force Base in California soon. We're also shipping supplies out of bases in Germany for Macedonia, and we're preparing an additional 600,000 daily rations for that country.
TOM BEARDEN: But the President said the relief efforts also needed help from private citizens.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: We've established an 800 number. It's 1-800-USAID-RELIEF. Any American can call and make contributions to private humanitarian organizations, and can get information about the private organizations that are providing relief. Many of them are represented in this room today, by the people who are sitting here, and I want to thank all of them from the bottom of my heart for their commitment and their tireless efforts. Americans all over this country want to know what they can do. I can tell you right now in the short run, with all those people building up at the borders, the most important thing the American people can do right now is to make financial contributions to these organizations. They are there, they're organized, they know who the people are; they know how to deliver the relief, and we can get it done. We do need help; we're doing all we can; we need more help.
TOM BEARDEN: In an effort to relieve the pressure on Albania and Macedonia, several NATO member countries have pledged to accept more than 100,000 refugees for temporary relocation.
CHRISTOPHER HILL, US Envoy: Today's problem is to make sure these people are safe and under tents, and get them some food and water, and that's happening. And we're also looking at how to get them out of here as soon as possible, on to some receiving countries, and we expect to see that process start today.
TOM BEARDEN: Germany has pledged to accept 40,000 people; Turkey, 20,000; Norway and Romania, 6,000; and Canada and Greece will each take 5,000. President Clinton says the US will also participate.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: As others do their part, we should be prepared to do ours as well. Today I can say that we are prepared to accept up to 20,000 refugees. Our goal is to take some of the burden off the struggling front-line nations.
TOM BEARDEN: The refugees would not be taken to the Continental United States, but instead to Guantanamo, Cuba, a US Naval base that has housed thousands of Cuban and Haitian refugees in the past. There has also been discussion about using facilities on the Pacific Island of Guam, which has housed Vietnamese and Kurdish refugees. On the military front, Air Commodore David Wilby said NATO was taking advantage of better weather over Yugoslavia to continue the air assault.
AIR COMMODORE DAVID WILBY, NATO Military spokesman: We will capitalize on the clear weather to attack strategic and operational targets throughout the operational area. I have only one cockpit video for you today, which is pretty self-explanatory. But you will see, towards the end of the clip, two bombs coming in from the right hand side - please watch -- coming in from 3 o'clock. In Belgrade, we also hit an important headquarters of the FRI air defense forces. I told you yesterday of the destruction of the Security Institute, and today I can show you before-and-after reconnaissance pictures of that target. As you can see, it was heavily damaged. We also targeted Serbian forces in the field.
TOM BEARDEN: NATO will intensify those attacks with additional American weapons, which will shortly be en route from Germany. 24 Apache attack helicopters will be dispatched to Albania. The helicopters carry a variety of rockets, antitank missiles, and guns, and are expected to be more effective against ground forces, despite bad weather. But since they also fly very low, they're also more vulnerable to ground fire than faster, higher-flying jets. The US is also sending 18 multiple-launch rocket systems, which have medium- and long- range antipersonnel rockets. Some 2,600 American troops will operate these systems, and they will be equipped with Bradley armored personnel carriers. The President said it was within the power of the Yugoslav President, Slobodan Milosevic, to halt the build-up.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Mr. Milosevic has created a humanitarian disaster in Kosovo. He could end it today by stopping the killing. He could end the bombing, he could end the suffering of the refugees, by withdrawing from Kosovo his military police and paramilitary forces, by accepting the deployment of an international security force, and making it possible for all refugees to return as we move toward a political framework for Kosovo on the basis of the Rambouillet Accords. But more empty promises and token half measures won't do the job. A commitment to cease killing and a Kosovo denied its freedom and devoid of its people is not acceptable. If Mr. Milosevic does not do what is necessary, NATO will continue an air campaign. It will be undiminished, unceasing, and unrelenting. It will inflict such damage that either he will change his calculations, or we will seriously diminish his capacity to maintain his grip and impose his control on Kosovo.
TOM BEARDEN: In Yugoslavia, state television broadcast video of a meeting between the Russian ambassador to that country and the ethnic Albanian leader Ibrahim Rugova. Rugova was a member of the Kosovar delegation to the peace talks that collapsed last month. Serb television reported Rugova called for an end to NATO air strikes, but NATO said Serb TV had altered his words. Serbian television continued virtually round-the-clock broadcasts of pictures of the aftermath of the NATO bombings. In the city of Nic, 100 miles north of Belgrade, Cruise missiles struck an army command center. Yugoslav TV said this cigarette factory, one of the largest in Europe, was also hit. In Belgrade, itself, missiles struck an Air Force headquarters, which was known to have been evacuated before the attack. Army barracks and headquarters buildings were also struck in the suburbs of Belgrade. In the neighboring province of Montenegro some 6,000 people vented their anger at NATO, staging a pro-Serbian rally in the center of the capital city. Reports are Montenegro's pro-western authorities, under severe pressure since the air strikes began, fear an eruption of violence that might spark attacks on the government. US policy in Kosovo has been under attack by a growing chorus of critics for several days. But this afternoon, the President said the US had no choice but to act.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: We have a lot of tough questions to answer about this operation, and I am quite sure that we cannot answer every one to everyone's satisfaction. But I would far rather be standing here answering these questions with these people, talking about this endeavor, than I would to be standing here having you ask me why we are permitting a wholesale ethnic slaughter and ethnic cleansing and the creation of hundreds of thousands of refugees, and not lifting a finger to do anything about it.