|YUGOSLAV STRIKES -- DAY 16|
April 8, 1999
JIM LEHRER: The wars of both words and bombs between NATO and Yugoslavia heated up today, as the UN asked for an accounting of the thousands of refugees who have disappeared along the border of Kosovo. Tom Bearden once again has our summary report.
TOM BEARDEN: A modern city, shattered. The question is, who's responsible? Yugoslavian authorities took western reporters on a tour of Pristina, the capital city of Kosovo. The Yugoslav government said the damage and at least ten civilian deaths were caused by NATO bombs. NATO Spokesman Air Commodore David Wilby said otherwise.
AIR COMMODORE DAVID WILBY, NATO Military Spokesman: NATO has certainly not caused the reported widespread and random damage, which we believe has been orchestrated by Serbian forces. I'm sure that closer forensic investigation will reveal the truth.
TOM BEARDEN: State Department Spokesman James Rubin said the Serbs often caused such so-called collateral damage themselves.
JAMES RUBIN: We do believe that after NATO bombings of certain sites, the Serbs very cravenly go in and destroy civilian buildings around those targets to try to create a misimpression that NATO bombings have destroyed civilian targets.
TOM BEARDEN: As for Yugoslavia's announced unilateral cease-fire, NATO said there was evidence that army and paramilitary forces were continuing to engage rebel forces. Last night, aircraft from the USS THEODORE ROOSEVELT, newly arrived in the Adriatic, added their weight to the offensive. Wilby said the allied air force is having more success engaging Yugoslav ground forces.
AIR COMMODORE DAVID WILBY: We are maintaining our air presence over Kosovo for longer periods, and this is bearing fruit in our efforts against the fielded forces. If you will remember, that yesterday I showed you a graphic which depicted an attack against a convoy in western Kosovo; I can now show you imagery we obtained late yesterday which shows that same convoy, or more accurately, the remains of that convoy. You can clearly see the abandoned military vehicles along the road. The next video I have shows a successful attack on an ammunition production facility. If you watch the right side of the image, you may see the bombs prior to their impact. You start to look for the bombs coming in now. And just to prove that it's not all done by mirrors and magic, the final clip very clearly shows one of our successful strikes against the Serbian armored vehicles operating with Kosovo. Because the guidance is from the aircraft, you can clearly see the final results.
TOM BEARDEN: Wilby said the attacks are beginning to affect the Yugoslavian units.
AIR COMMODORE DAVID WILBY: We've seen evidence that he is having slight problems, he is having to slow down. And I think that this latest evidence that we've seen, where they're hiding up, loggering up in deserted villages, taking on a more concealed process, is perhaps an indication that our campaign is having its effect.
TOM BEARDEN: State-controlled Serbian television broadcast video of new air strikes last night on Pristina and Central Belgrade. The agency has often asserted that the bombing, which NATO says has been surgical, has, in fact, caused immense damage to non-military targets. Today NATO said Yugoslav broadcast outlets might themselves become targets.
AIR COMMODORE DAVID WILBY: Well, Serb radio and TV is an instrument of propaganda and repression. It has filled the airwaves with hate and with lies over the years, and especially now. It is therefore a legitimate target in this campaign. If President Milosevic would provide equal time for western news broadcasters in its programs, without censorship, three hours a day between noon and 18:00, and three hours a day between 18:00 and midnight, then his TV could become an acceptable instrument of public information.
TOM BEARDEN: There is a serious lack of information and confusion about the whereabouts of several thousand refugees. More than 60,000 people who had been jammed into a squalid camp at Blace on the Macedonian border were herded into buses and moved on Tuesday night. About half were moved into two newly erected NATO tent camps, others were bused to Albania. But the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said many are still unaccounted for.
SADOKO OGATA, UN High Commissioner for Refugees: We don't know what has happened to them, and I am very, very worried, because after such a large flow of people, I don't know how many that are actually missing, but it's estimated some 50,000 to 60,000 people were there. And we did not have access and we were blocked there. And we have done a lot ourselves, but various governments have intervened to unblock the situation. Now it was the night before last, overnight, they all disappeared.
TOM BEARDEN: Later in the day, the US State Department said about 43,000 refugees had been accounted for, and said there did not appear to be a large number of people missing. There is also concern about the fate of tens of thousands of people who were on the other side of the Kosovo border from the Blace camp. Yugoslav TV showed long lines of cars and trucks, and said the pictures showed ethnic Albanians returning voluntarily to their homes.
JAMES RUBIN: We don't know the whereabouts of the Kosovar Albanians who have been turned back at the border. We're obviously very concerned about their well-being. Serb forces appear to be denying them the opportunity to cross the border and receive humanitarian assistance, and trying to force them back into a wasteland with virtually no food, water, or shelter, again, a wasteland created by the Serbs themselves.
TOM BEARDEN: Rubin showed reconnaissance photographs of eight villages he said Serbian forces had destroyed. Rubin said he could not respond to a question about whether the Serbs might attempt to use the returning refugees as human shields against air attacks. Conditions for the refugees who made it to the NATO camps are physically much better, but still very difficult psychologically. Many families have been separated, and people are desperately worried about the fate of their loved ones. UN relief agencies are setting up systems to help reunite families, even as those families grow. Three babies were born overnight in just this camp alone. NATO countries have launched a massive relief effort called Operation Allied Harbor, so large the US said it was having trouble finding space on transport aircraft to move 24 US Apache attack helicopters to the region from their base in Germany. On what was described as a morale-boosting visit to Aviano, Italy, Secretary of Defense William Cohen said NATO would ultimately prevail.
WILLIAM COHEN, Secretary of Defense: Mr. Milosevic, as you all have seen, has carried all of us into the heart of darkness. It's a place where the law of rule grinds its heel and boot over the rule of law, and where justice amounts to nothing more than a bullet in the back of the brain. He and his hooded thugs are going through and destroying the lives of hundreds -- if not thousands -- of people. They are engaging in rape, pillage, and mass murder on a scale that we have not seen since the end of World War II. You are the guardians of liberty, you are the steel in the sword of freedom, and that is exactly why Mr. Milosevic is going to feel the weight, the heft, and the sharpness of that steel day in and day out, until such time as there is an agreement to the principles that NATO insists upon.
TOM BEARDEN: This afternoon, Yugoslav soldiers were seen burying what appeared to be land mines along the Kosovo border with Albania. At an afternoon news conference alongside Chinese Premier Zhu Ronji, President Clinton was asked if the Yugoslav president should be considered a war criminal.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Let's look at what we know. What we know is that by a deliberate policy, he has caused hundreds of thousands of people to be refugees. We know that thousands of innocent people have been killed -- defenseless, completely defenseless people. We know that people were herded up and pushed to the borders and pushed over the borders. And today you all have stories saying that the same borders that people were herded up and pushed over or pushed out next to are now being mined, so if they try to get across them to save their lives, they can be blown up. We know that he supported strongly the Serbian actions in the Bosnian war, which led to the deaths of over a quarter of a million and over two and a half million people being made refugees. Now the important thing to me is to stop the killing, to stop the exodus, to see the refugees return, to see them safe, to see a political solution that gives them the autonomy that they were promised, to have an international peacekeeping force that will prevent this from happening again.
TOM BEARDEN: On the diplomatic front, the acting president of Cyprus landed in Belgrade this afternoon. Spyros Kyprianos is trying to win the release of three captured US servicemen. Reports are that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic may meet with him tomorrow, but Yugoslav officials have issued conflicting statements on whether there is any possibility the soldiers will be released.