|NATO STRIKES - DAY 14|
April 6, 1999
Correspondent Tom Bearden reports on the latest developments in the war in the Balkans and the reaction to today's Yugoslav unilateral cease-fire.
| JIM LEHRER: Yugoslavia began a unilateral cease-fire in
Kosovo today. The United States and NATO quickly rejected the idea. Tom
Bearden again has our opening summary report.
TOM BEARDEN: The cease-fire announcement came after a night of what NATO described as the most intensive bombing since Operation Allied Force began. Yugoslavia said the cease-fire was intended to mark the Orthodox Easter holiday. It was unclear if it would be continued beyond the weekend. President Clinton, speaking at a previously scheduled event in support of proposed domestic hate crime legislation, said Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic has the power to stop NATO bombing.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: If you think about the brave men and women who are working with our NATO allies today in Kosovo, and you remember that this basically all started 12 years ago when Mr. Milosevic decided to rally the support of his ethnic Serbian group by turning their hatred against the Kosovar Albanians, and later the Bosnian Muslims and the Croatian Catholics and the others, it is very important that we deal with these challenges here at home even as we continue to support the work of our people in uniform in the Balkans. I want to say again the United States would never choose force as anything other than a last option. And Mr. Milosevic could end it now by withdrawing his military police and paramilitary forces by accepting the difficult employment of an international security force to protect not only the Kosovar Albanians, most but not all of whom are Muslims, but also the Serbian minority in Kosovo. Everybody -- we're not for anybody's hate crimes -- and by making it possible for all the refugees to return, and to move toward a political framework based on the accords reached in France.
TOM BEARDEN: The Serbian foreign ministry pledged to work with the United Nations for the return of ethnic Albanian refugees, but the NATO allies said all indications were Serbian forces were still forcing more people out of Kosovo. Thousands continue to arrive at border crossings in Macedonia, Albania, Montenegro and now Bosnia. NATO has mobilized a massive air relief effort; food, water, medicine and tents began arriving yesterday. Even Russia announced it would send a million dollars worth of relief material even as it called the NATO air strikes acts of barbarity. But large quantities of aid haven't arrived yet and tens of thousands of people are still caught in desperate circumstances. Conditions are particularly bad in Blace, Macedonia. Estimates are that 65,000 people have been trapped for days without shelter in a hellish no-man's-land between the borders of Macedonia and Kosovo. They are living in makeshift plastic shelters held up by sticks. The mud is ankle deep and pathways are running sewers. Health authorities are concerned about a potential outbreak of dysentery and many people are dehydrated because of a shortage of fresh water. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees now estimates 400,000 ethnic Albanians have fled or been expelled from Kosovo since the bombing began March 24th; 700,000 more displaced but still inside Kosovo. Several NATO countries have volunteered to take in more than 100,000 of these people. The Turkish government has agreed to accept 26,000 refugees and the first wave of some 6,000 began to settle into a camp in Western Turkey today.
SPOKESMAN: We are doing what we can to the limit and we take pride in being able to contribute to bring some relief to the suffering of the refugees. Having said all this, we very much hope that this would be an interim arrangement and that once the situation goes back to normal in Kosovo, all these refugees, not the refugees in turkey only but all the refugees wherever they are, will be able to return to their land.
TOM BEARDEN: The effort to airlift refugees away from the war zone has resulted in something of a rift in the NATO alliance. Some countries, including Albania, France and Finland are concerned the relocation might become permanent. The US announced plans today to begin moving up to 20,000 people to the naval Base at Guantanamo Cuba and insists this is a purely temporary measure to relieve pressure on the refugee camps. Hundreds of refugees have told reporters chilling stories of being forced to leave their homes at gun point. Some have accused the Serbian army and paramilitary army of atrocities and one even smuggled out videotape of a mass execution. In an interview with ABC News this morning, Serb paramilitary leader and accused war criminal Zelko Raznatovic, also known as Arkan, dismissed those accounts as western propaganda.
SPOKESMAN: What you don't see is that the Serbs that we have 60,000 refugees in Serbia, the Serbs which are running away from Kosovo. We have in Montenegro, about 70,000 refugees running away from Kosovo. We have in Macedonia, all the Serbs and Turks and Albanians and gypsies and Macedonian people, they are running away from the bombing, NATO bombing. Why don't you tell to your people in United States that the people, the refugees are running away there NATO bombing. You're bombing civilian targets. You're bombing factories, you're bombing everything you can.
TOM BEARDEN: Yugoslav television showed pictures of an air strike on a town southeast of Belgrade it said killed several civilians. Today is the 58th anniversary of the World War II German attack on Yugoslavia and the government compared this attack to Nazi atrocities. NATO admitted the attack was a mistake and said it might have been due to a technical fault or that the missile might have been damaged by ground fire.
SPOKESMAN: Last night we struck a military facility at Alexanatch, home of the 203rd mixed artillery brigade. It possible that one of our weapons fell short of the target. We have not been able to complete a full investigation into last night's incident, but it is possible that such a rare fault may have occurred. Whatever the reason, any unintended damage to civilian property or loss of life is very much regretted.
TOM BEARDEN: NATO said improving weather conditions have allowed pilots to carry out the largest number of strikes since the campaign began.
SPOKESMAN: To illustrate some success of our attacks on his fuel supplies this is a before -- you can see in red the targets we were going for, the aim points. And here is an after shot. And you can see the extent of the damage. Incidentally, the building with the chimneys bordered in blue is the heating plant that the FREI authorities accused us of targeting. You can see that this facility was not targeted, but it may have been partially damaged by the fires that raged in the fuel depot. This second image is of a storage depot that has virtually been destroyed. This once again is a before and after shot. And I think the pictures will tell their own story. I can show you cockpit video of one of yesterday's attacks. As you will see, the clip shows a very successful strike on an ammunition storage area, ammunition that now will never be used again in Kosovo. Watch for four bombs coming in from the left of the screen. Start to look now just to the left of the screen. Yesterday I think it is fair to say that despite good weather, although our attacks have restricted the units from combat duties, we had not achieved the level of damage on these forces that we would have liked. However, we are continually adapting our tactics to resolve this frustrating situation.
TOM BEARDEN: NATO continues to beef up its military resources in the region. The aircraft carrier USS Roosevelt arrived last night and immediately began launching air strikes. The carrier battle group also contains additional ships and submarines capable of launching cruise missiles. Critics of US and NATO policy continue to insist the crisis cannot be brought to a conclusion without the introduction of ground combat forces, an option Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, again firmly rejected.
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: As we have repeated over and over again, the President has no plans or intentions for ground forces in a non-permissive environment. And we believe that a sustained air campaign can accomplish the objectives that we have laid out and also to severely degrade, damage, and make it increasingly difficult if those particular conditions are not met, for Milosevic do listen to loosen his grip and be prevented from this kind of butchery.