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United Nations, NATO Issue Warning on Kosovo

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

VILAMOURA, Portugal, Sept. 24, 1998 – International leaders are moving closer to conducting strong, effective air strikes against Serb military targets to end the crisis in Kosovo.

The United Nations passed a resolution Sept 23 calling for a Kosovo cease-fire. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization approved an activation warning order Sept. 24 for both a limited air option and a phased air campaign in Kosovo.

"This is serious, and it is more than words," Defense Secretary William S. Cohen said of NATO's action. He said it's intended to send a strong message to Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. Cohen is in Portugal for a meeting of NATO defense ministers.

The NATO warning order does not commit NATO to use force, Cohen explained, but it provides for the detailed planning needed should the alliance decide to use force. If military force is ordered, he said, the United States will participate.

Kosovo was a politically autonomous province of the Yugoslavian republic of Serbia. When the Yugoslavian federation dissolved in 1989, Serbia declared itself the federal successor and stripped Kosovo of its special status. Ever since, a guerrilla faction of ethnic Albanians, who comprise about 90 percent of Kosovo's 2 million population, has sought independence. Open fighting exploded when Milosevic sent his army to suppress resistance.

U.S. officials say nearly 250,000 Kosovars have fled their homes and are either refugees or internally displaced within the country. Many are living in the open countryside or in the mountains without shelter or food. To date, diplomatic efforts to end the crisis peacefully have failed.

"Unless there is prompt action by Milosevic, the alliance stands ready to follow up and consider issuing an ultimatum," said Walt Slocombe, undersecretary of defense for policy. Any air strikes ordered would involve "very effective, very strong blows aimed at the very instruments that Milosevic is using to carry out his repression," he said.

The activation warning order positions NATO to act quickly, Slocombe said. It will allow the alliance to move, within a matter of days, from "'being ready to execute' to 'execute.'" It is not a decision either to issue an ultimatum or to launch an attack, he said.

The North Atlantic Council approved the order Sept. 24 that will take NATO "to an increased level of military preparedness," NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana said following a council meeting here. The order allows NATO commanders to identify assets required for air operations, he said.

"Let me stress that the use of force will require further decisions by the North Atlantic Council, but today's decision is an important political signal of NATO's readiness to use force," the secretary-general said.

"The United States and its allies are moving NATO activities from the planning state to readiness to act," President Clinton said in a Sept. 24 statement in Washington. "With more than 250,000 Kosovars displaced from their homes and cold weather coming, Milosevic must act immediately to heed the will of the international community."

The U.N. resolution places responsibility "squarely on President Milosevic to take the concrete steps necessary to prevent a major humanitarian disaster and restore peace in the region," Clinton said. It also makes it clear that the deteriorating situation in Kosovo constitutes a threat to regional peace and security, he said.

"The international community has run out of patience with [Milosevic's] activities in Kosovo," Slocombe said. "This NATO action, coupled with the U.N. Security Council action , sends a clear message that Milosevic has got to stop the offensive against the civilian population of Kosovo."

International officials are calling on Milosevic to withdraw forces sent in to carry out a campaign of suppression. He must allow displaced persons and refugees to return to their homes. He must allow nongovernmental organizations to provide necessary humanitarian relief. He also must begin serious political engagement toward negotiations for an interim settlement that would provide an amenable basis for autonomy for Kosovo.

NATO's activation warning signifies the increasing urgency of the situation, Slocombe explained. "I'm told it snowed in Kosovo two days ago," he said. "If we are to avert a humanitarian disaster, there has to be action within the next few weeks."

Alexander Vershbow, U.S. ambassador to NATO, said: "Any NATO action will be aimed at compelling Milosevic to pull back those forces, withdraw those who don't belong in Kosovo, and enable a secure environment to be re-established in which humanitarian operations could function and people could return without fear."

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