|YUGOSLAV STRIKES -- DAY 17|
April 9, 1999
JIM LEHRER: The death and damage toll mounted today in the battle for Kosovo. NATO showed evidence it was destroying strategic targets, while admitting there had also been civilian damage. On the diplomatic front, Russia voiced, then retracted, threats of military action. And the effort to free three captured US soldiers failed. Tom Bearden again narrates our summary report on the day's events.
TOM BEARDEN: Yugoslav State Television said more than 120 civilians were injured when NATO aircraft attacked an industrial complex about 50 miles south of Belgrade last night. No deaths were reported, but rescue workers spent much of the night hunting for bodies in the ruins of Yugoslavia's only car manufacturing plant. Yesterday, the Yugoslav government said NATO had virtually destroyed the center of the city of Pristina, the capital of the Kosovo province. NATO said they had not massively targeted Central Pristina, and accused the Serbs of causing the damage themselves. But today, Air Commodore David Wilby conceded that one attack last Tuesday night on the main telephone exchange in Pristina had caused collateral damage.
AIR COMMODORE DAVID WILBY: This was a key target that was being used to provide communications between the fielded Serbian forces within Kosovo and Belgrade. Although three of our bombs hit the target, despite our very best efforts, it appears that on this attack, one bomb may have caused some collateral damage. This image shows the telephone exchange before the attack, and this image shows the post-attack damage. You will see in the rectangle to the north of the target an area which we have marked which is possible collateral damage, some 200 to 300 meters from the target. Obviously, we regret any unintended damage or loss of civilian life. I would like to stress that this was considered a critical target, and collateral damage risks were taken into close consideration during our attack planning. It is also worth bearing in mind that most of the Kosovar Albanians, if not all, had already been driven out of the city by Serb action. You may also recall that recent media coverage of the city's damage described Pristina as being practically deserted.
TOM BEARDEN: The acting president of Cyprus toured some of the damaged areas in Belgrade today and had a 90-minute meeting with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. Spyros Kyprianou had sought the release of three captured American servicemen, but this afternoon told reporters he had failed. The Pentagon called the whole matter a propaganda ploy and a cruel disappointment to the soldiers' families. Earlier today, there was a flap over what Russian President Boris Yeltsin said, or didn't say, about retargeting Russian nuclear missiles at NATO countries because of their air campaign against Yugoslavia. The speaker of the Russian parliament told western reporters that Yeltsin had given the order to retarget the missiles, a statement the Russian foreign minister later denied.
IGOR IVANOV, Russian Foreign Minister: (speaking through interpreter) I can give you a straight answer: No orders regarding rockets, as far as the foreign ministry is aware, have been issued.
TOM BEARDEN: US State Department Spokesman James Rubin:
JAMES RUBIN, State Department Spokesman: The Russians have assured us that no such decision has been made, that this -- we even understand that the chairman, who allegedly made the statement, says he didn't make such a statement. So we have been assured at a variety of levels that Russia -- and this is the main point -- will not get involved militarily in Yugoslavia, and that President Yeltsin has given no instructions to the Russian military regarding retargeting of Russia's strategic nuclear force.
TOM BEARDEN: President Yeltsin later reiterated the Russian intention not to get involved, but also warned NATO not to drag Russia into Kosovo, because it could spark a European, or even a world, war.
PRESIDENT BORIS YELTSIN, Russia: (speaking through interpreter) I repeat once more, Russia is not going to get involved in the conflict unless the Americans push us to that. NATO wants to launch ground operations. It wants to simply seize Yugoslavia and make it their protectorate. We can by no means give Yugoslavia away.
TOM BEARDEN: Sharp fighting broke out on the southern border of Kosovo today between the Yugoslav army and KLA rebel forces. Four rebels were reported killed by artillery fire. The fighting took place not far from the refugee camps in Albania. Today the United Nations High Commission for Refugees said it had located some 10,000 refugees that had been missing since Wednesday. They were among the mass of people who were moved out of the infamous camp at Blace, Macedonia, earlier this week. Most were bused to camps in Albania. But NATO Spokesman Jamie Shea said the whereabouts of the refugees who were moved back into Kosovo after the Yugoslav Army closed the border remain uncertain.
JAMIE SHEA: One of the things that we're trying to track with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees is the fate of car people, if I can put it that way -- of people who were in a line of cars stretching about 20 kilometers up to the Albanian border, whose cars have now been abandoned, but we do not know where the people are. Perhaps they have crossed over into Albania on foot, or by various means. Perhaps they've been turned back inside Kosovo. But this is something we need to, or we are, watching carefully.
TOM BEARDEN: In Washington this afternoon, Pentagon Spokesman Kenneth Bacon said there is increasing evidence of brutality inside Kosovo.
KENNETH BACON, Pentagon Spokesman: We're getting some very disturbing reports out of Kosovo recently that young Kosovar women are being herded into a Serb Army training camp near the town of Dakovica, which is in southwest Kosovo, where they are being raped by troops, and we have reports that as many as 20 may have been killed in the course of this. This is a very eerie and disturbing echo of documented instances of rape and killing of women in Bosnia during the Bosnia war, and it is obviously outrageous that this is occurring. We are getting these reports, as I say, and we will be attempting to try to confirm these reports over the next few days, as we interview refugees and look for other ways to obtain information.
TOM BEARDEN: Today, Macedonian authorities began burning the refuse at the now-abandoned Blace Camp for health reasons. The UN now estimates that more than half a million people have left Kosovo since fighting began there in March of last year. Meanwhile, NATO is beefing up its combat forces. The Albanian government reported that the first of 24 American Apache attack helicopters is expected to begin arriving in that country tonight, much sooner than had been anticipated. The low-flying helicopters are designed to kill tanks. The helicopter battalion will be joined by a rocket-launching unit and some 2,000 American soldiers. The Pentagon announced that six additional F-15 fighters would join Operation Allied Force, and France sent four more Mirage jets to NATO's air base in Aviano, Italy. In Washington, President Clinton again called on President Milosevic to accede to NATO's demands.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: As our strikes have intensified, Mr. Milosevic has tried to rearrange the facts on the ground by declaring a cease-fire while closing his borders to fleeing refugees. But the fundamental reality is unchanged: Attacks on innocent people continue. Refugees who were pushed from their homes by force now see their escape routes blocked by force. Mr. Milosevic still thinks he can manipulate the situation by cynically using innocent people. He hopes that we will accept as permanent the results of his ethnic cleansing. We will not, not when a quarter of Kosovo's people are living in refugee camps beyond Kosovo's borders; not when hundreds of thousands more are trapped inside, afraid to go home but unable to leave. If we settle for half measures from Mr. Milosevic, we will get nothing more. And what we have from Mr. Milosevic today is not even partial compliance, but the illusion of partial compliance. We and our allies have properly rejected it.