|CAMPAIGN FOR KOSOVO|
May 5, 1999
JIM LEHRER: Two American pilots died today when their Apache helicopter crashed in Albania. They were identified as Army Chief Warrant Officers David Gibbs of Ohio and Kevin Reichert of Wisconsin. They were the first American casualties of the Kosovo campaign. President Clinton offered words of sympathy at an air base in Germany. And back in this country, the first of many Kosovar refugees began arriving. Tom Bearden has our Kosovo summary report.
TOM BEARDEN: The Apache attack helicopter was one of 24 that arrived in Albania last month. It was on a night training mission.
LT. COL. GARRIE DORNAN, US Army: The crash of the two-person helicopter occurred about 1:30 AM. A security element has secured the crash site, an explosive ordinance disposal team has been dispatched to aid in the recovery effort. There are no indications that hostile fire was involved.
TOM BEARDEN: Later, an Army spokesman said the helicopter might have collided with power lines. At the Pentagon, Major General Charles Wald was asked if the accident would make the Army more cautious.
MAJOR GENERAL CHARES WALD: From an operator's perspective I don't think you can get any more cautious than we are of doing the job right. And what I say there is that the training missions they fly, whether it be Apaches, aircraft, or any other type of training, now we're talking about aviation, is very demanding. It's got a lot of risk attached to it in peacetime, as well as combat. I think there has been an average of 130 deaths in helicopters over the lasting six years in training incidents.
TOM BEARDEN: The news of the loss greeted President Clinton as he arrived in Germany for talks with NATO and meetings with American military personnel. Speaking to a group of servicemen and women and their families, Mr. Clinton said he knew their task was hard, but necessary.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: When people throw away that understanding of our common humanity and make differences the only thing that matter and make them so important they justify literally dehumanizing other people so that their lives their children, their property, their history, their culture, even their faith in God do not matter, that makes life unbearable. And it makes civilization impossible. And that is what we are fighting against in Kosovo. If we want Europe to be undivided and democratic and at peace for the first time in history, and if we don't want your successors to have to come to this continent and fight another bitter war, then we must stand in Kosovo for the elemental principle of the common humanity of every breathing, living person in this continent. (Applause)
TOM BEARDEN: The President also met with the three servicemen who had been prisoners of war earlier this week before their release by Yugoslavian President Slobodan Milosevic. The President reportedly also asked Secretary of Defense William Cohen what he might do about releasing the two Serbian prisoners of war. Cohen said they would be released shortly.
WILLIAM COHEN: Right now the International Red Cross is examining the second prisoner, and as soon as they complete their examination, then they'll -- I will review it and then make a recommendation. But I would expect within a relatively short period of time that we could see their release. This is not a goodwill overture to Mr. Milosevic. I don't believe Mr. Milosevic has made any goodwill overture to us.
TOM BEARDEN: Overnight, NATO bombs and missiles hit the airport in Pristina, Kosovo's provincial capital, and other targets in central and western Yugoslavia. The alliance air campaign spared Belgrade, but the city was again without power. Serbian media blamed it on carbon fibers that earlier soft bomb attacks had scattered on power substations, shorting them out. Reports are that strong winds picked the fibers off the ground and blew them back into the power stations, shutting them down again. A relief convoy from the Greek branch of doctors of the world came under fire while en route from Macedonia to Pristina. The group said there was an explosion about 100 yards away and no one was hurt.
MAJ. GENERAL CHARLES WALD, US Air Force: There were two convoys, I believe. What I have understood from talking to people in Europe is that they've reviewed every possible mission they can review every tape they can review over that period of time. And there are no indications whatsoever that we attacked even close to one of those convoys. So we can find no evidence at all that that has any truth to it. And from what I understand, the convoy, people are in contact back to their own headquarters or their supervisors, and they don't know whether they were attacked from the air or the ground. So they can't even verify whether it was an air attack.
TOM BEARDEN: Ethnic Albanians continue to flee Kosovo by the thousands -- so many people that Macedonia closed the border this afternoon. Reports are that some 1,500 refugees were turned back. In Kukes, Albania, tent cities have become home to 30,000 refugees, but they may not be permitted to stay there much longer. The UN is considering shutting down the camp because the border has seen repeated shelling from the Kosovo side.
DREW GILMOUR, Administrator, Italian Camp #2: Unfortunately we're too close to the border. We don't know what the other side is going to do here. We are within range. And it's our duty to ensure that people which we take in our care are safely accommodated elsewhere.
TOM BEARDEN: The problem is the refugees don't want to leave. They're hoping to connect with family members left behind. The UN Refugee Commission is also worried about how long the refugees may be displaced.
KAREN KONING ABU ZAYD, UNHCR Regional Representative: We're very concerned about this operation going on through the winter, what it means if we reach September and the refugees are still out in all of these countries having to winterize the camps, many of them tented camps. As one of our colleagues has said, there may be more than one who are on the ground out there, if we get to September and we haven't solved the problem, then Milosevic has won this war anyway.
TOM BEARDEN: NATO Commander General Wesley Clark echoed those concerns, noting that crops have not been planted and whole villages have been destroyed. This morning, the first batch of 453 refugees bound for the US boarded buses in Macedonia and later a chartered 747 to begin a 13-hour journey to New Jersey. The US has agreed to accept 20,000 Kosovars on a temporary basis. The jumbo jet touched down at McGuire Air Force Base at 4:20 Eastern Time, and the refugees slowly disembarked. Local and state officials lined the tarmac to greet the new arrivals. Most of the refugees showed little emotion, although some of the children seemed excited. They boarded 11 waiting buses to take them to nearby Fort Dix where they will be greeted by First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton. They will be housed in dormitory-style rooms; each will receive welcome kits, including soap, shampoo, and a towel. Playrooms have been set up with board game, basketball nets, and big-screen TV's. Another room will serve as a place of prayer for the mostly Muslim refugees. Many of the signs at Fort Dix have been translated into Albanian, and the cooks have taken crash courses on Albanian cuisine. Albanian-speaking counselors will be available to help deal with the trauma of relocation. The refugees will be allowed to rest all day tomorrow before meeting with immigration officials and undergoing medical checks on Friday. Fort Dix will be their home for about two weeks until they're resettled with relatives and sponsor families around the country.