NATO's Allied Force Tightening the Noose on Serbs
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Mar. 29, 1999 NATO is tightening the noose around the Serb war machine, NATO spokesman Jamie Shea said March 29. "It's true that President [Slobodan] Milosevic is tenacious, but so are we."
Operation Allied Force is being effective, Shea said. "The mission is working. This is a methodical, systematic and progressive air campaign to strip the Serb leadership bare of their military capabilities," he said.
Shea, and British Royal Air Force Air Commodore David Wilby, SHAPE spokesman, updated reporters on the military operation and the escalating humanitarian crisis in Kosovo during a briefing in Brussels. Operation Allied Force is now in its second phase, targeting Serb army and special police forces within Kosovo. "We're on plan, we're on timetable and we're on target," Shea said. Phase 1 involved taking out key nodes of the integrated Serb air defense system, he said.
NATO's round-the-clock strikes are engaging more of the Serbs' forces in Kosovo itself, while retaining the flexibility to reattack Serb air- defenses, Wilby said. The United States and Great Britain are committing up to a dozen more planes each.
Milosevic has adopted "a siege mentality," Wilby said. The Serb leader apparently believes he can solve his ethnic problems in one week and that "NATO unity will crack in that same period," he said.
More than half a million Kosovars have been displaced since the fighting between Serb and ethnic Albanian factions began in Kosovo more than a year ago. U.N. officials report Kosovar refugees in Albania have doubled to 60,000 in just the past few days. Refugees also are now fleeing to Montenegro and Albania as Yugoslav forces torch villages, Wilby said. Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe monitors say 4,000 refugees per hour are arriving at the Albanian border.
"Refugees entering Albania are being stripped by the Serb border forces of their passports, their ID cards, their papers," Shea said. "It's almost as if their identities are being canceled out, as if they're being declared nonpersons."
NATO officials see the Serbian expulsion of ethnic Albanians as an attempt to re-engineer Kosovo's ethnic makeup, particularly the northern and central parts of the province, Shea said. The purge also destabilizes neighboring countries by flooding them with refugees their economic and social structures can't handle, he added.
Shea stressed that the current violence in Kosovo is not a "spontaneous outburst" following NATO operations, but a planned Serb campaign against the civil population that began even as members of both sides met for peace talks in Rambouillet, France. Milosevic's history includes a pattern of systematically and permanently changing the ethnic identities of towns and villages, the NATO spokesman said.
Wilby said reliable sources reported the Serbs executed at least five prominent ethnic Albanians March 28, including Fehmi Agani, a Kosovar delegate at Rambouillet, and Baton Haxhiu, editor-in-chief of the ethnic Albanian newspaper Koha Ditore.