Serb Terror, Ethnic Cleansing Reach New Heights
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Mar. 30, 1999 A "modern-day great terror" is sweeping Kosovo as Serb-inflicted ethnic cleansing reaches new heights, NATO spokesman Jamie Shea said on Day 7 of NATO's air campaign against Yugoslav military forces.
"We have been shocked by the sheer proportions of what we see happening in Kosovo today," Shea said March 30. Even knowing Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's record did not prepare NATO for the calamity unfolding, he said.
Mobilizing NATO efforts to address the plight of ethnic Albanian refugees flooding from Kosovo is now the primary and immediate concern, he said.
"NATO countries will be in the forefront of the international community in supplying money and material to address this refugee crisis," Shea said. NATO allies are accelerating the movement of relief materials -- field hospitals, tents, sleeping bags, blankets, food. The Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Center in Brussels, Belgium, is coordinating assistance to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.
"Yesterday, we had a figure of 45,000 people who had fled Kosovo since March 24, Shea said. "This morning, we have a new figure of 118,000. This represents an enormous increase in just a few days, and the numbers are increasing all of the time." Serb troops are "forcibly busing" Kosovo's ethnic Albanians to the frontier, Shea said.
"Tanks are first surrounding the [villages]," he said. "Then paramilitaries are going in and rounding up civilians at gun point, separating young men from women and children. The women and children are then expelled from their homes and then sent towards the borders. After they've left, the homes are looted and then systematically torched."
This destruction extends to Kosovo's major cities, Shea said. Sustained Serb attacks on the provincial capital of Pristina are continuing. Peche, once a city of 100,000 people, is reported to be almost totally destroyed. Thousands of refugees are reportedly on a forced march toward Albania.
"If these reports are confirmed ," Shea said, "this is something that we haven't seen since the forced evacuation of Phnom Penh, in Cambodia, by the Khmer Rouge in the mid-1970s."
It's almost impossible for U.N. officials and other aid organizations to obtain a reliable tally given the pace that people are being forced out of Kosovo, Shea noted. The situation is critical on the Albanian border, where more than 100,000 refugees are estimated to have already arrived and thousands more are crossing every hour, he said. About 22,500 refugees are in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and 42,500 are in Montenegro.
"This is a humanitarian disaster of enormous proportions," Shea declared. "It brings the number of people who have been uprooted from their homes in Kosovo over the past year to 570,000, which is now heading up toward 30-plus percent of the total population."
The Serb's systematic offensive is clearly a pre-planned operation, Shea said. "This type of a humanitarian disaster is not improvised. It represents a master plan that was conceived and well on its way to being executed before the first NATO bomb was dropped against a military target."
Serb military exercises conducted this winter were forerunners of the operations now under way, he said. They masked increased army deployments in Kosovo and harassment of the local population. In February, villagers were driven from their homes prior to a bombardment by tank shells. In mid-March, Yugoslav forces launched major attacks in northwestern and central Kosovo.
"When the Paris peace talks were suspended on the 19th of March, Milosevic already had 40,000 army and special police forces and 300 tanks in Kosovo or on the immediate border," Shea said. "It's more and more evident to us now that Milosevic was using the Paris talks as a screen or cover to hide his planned offensive operations."
On March 20, the day after the Paris talks were suspended, Serbs began driving thousands of ethnic Albanians from their homes, Shea said. "Some of them were executed and then their homes were set on fire. That was four days -- four days -- before NATO initiated air operations," he emphasized.
"It is not NATO's planes that are forcing people to flee," Shea said. "We all understand clearly where that responsibility lies." The situation makes NATO even more determined to stop the fighting on the ground, he added. " Milosevic cannot invade neighboring countries with refugees in a hope that he can destabilize them."
Milosevic was conducting his offensive with impunity, but now NATO's Operation Allied Force is inflicting a price. "We want to make that price as high as we can to stop this terrible violence and suffering," he said. More than 7,300 U.S. service members and 250 aircraft are taking part in Allied Force.
While there's no instant solution to the crisis, Shea said, "We do have a deliberate, planned air operation which can and will have an impact on this situation as we pursue it over the next few days."
NATO has stepped up interdictions against field forces in Kosovo, according to British Royal Air Force Air Commodore David Wilby, SHAPE spokesman. "We will continue to plan vigorously to maintain and, where possible, increase the intensity of these operations over the coming days," he said.
All NATO planes returned safely and there were no air-to-air engagements during the seventh night of bombing, Wilby said. "Last night, SAM activity remained relatively low, but we cannot underestimate the remaining effectiveness of the integrated air defense system. We are detecting a dynamic, tactical air defense campaign against us.
"However, to our advantage, the complications and mobility that the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia is forced to introduce into its system leads to the disruption and degradation of its application," Wilby added.
NATO is conducting offensive operations around the clock, Wilby emphasized. "We are well into our plans for Phase 2 operations," he said. "More offensive assets, specifically suited for this role, are entering our order of battle and the weather is set to improve."