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NATO Attacks Serbs to Stop Kosovo Killings

By Jim Garamone and Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 24, 1999 – U.S. forces along with their NATO allies have started an air campaign against Serbia, President Clinton announced March 24.

While Clinton spoke, correspondents in the Kosovo capital of Pristina said they could hear explosions. Other correspondents in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, reported the flashes of explosions.

At about 2 p.m. Eastern Time, NATO's top military commander, U.S. Army Gen. Wesley Clark, informed NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana that air operations against targets in Yugoslavia had begun.

Clinton said NATO took action only after Serb President Slobodan Milosevic refused to stop atrocities in Kosovo and rejected a peace accord with ethnic Albanians in the province.

White House spokesman Joe Lockhart, in an earlier news briefing, said the objective of the bombing campaign is to "stop the killing and achieve a durable peace" in the area. He said NATO had to address the problem now because a failure to act would have destroyed its credibility. He also said not acting would only mean someone would have to step in later at a greater cost in lives and money.

Clinton said some 60,000 Kosovars have been forced from their homes in the past five weeks. Those refugees join some 200,000 already displaced since fighting exploded last year between Serb forces and separatist ethnic Albanian factions.

"Many [of the refugees] have headed to neighboring countries," the president said. "Kosovo's crisis is now full-blown and if we do not act, clearly it will get even worse."

Clinton said the strikes have three objectives: to demonstrate NATO's opposition to aggression and its support for peace; to impose a price on Milosevic if he continues or escalates attacks on helpless civilians; and to diminish his military ability to wage war in Kosovo in the future.

"I have concluded the dangers of acting now are clearly outweighed by the dangers of failing to act," Clinton said. He said he could not risk having many more people die or be driven from their homes by the tens of thousands. He further said the risk was too great that the conflict will involve and destabilize neighboring nations.

"We have a chance to leave our children a Europe that is free, peaceful and stable, but we must act now to do that," he said. "If the Balkans once again become a place of brutal killing and massive refugee flights, it will be impossible to achieve."

Clinton said the United States and its allies used diplomacy and force to end the war in Bosnia. "Now trouble next door in Kosovo puts the region's people at risk again," he said. "Our NATO allies unanimously support this action. The United States must stand with them and stand against ethnic violence and atrocity."

Lockhart said Clinton had spoken earlier in the day to Russian President Boris Yeltsin, who opposes the use of force against the Serbs. "[President Clinton] explained the situation to [Yeltsin] and the fact that the United States, Russia and Europe had given diplomacy every chance to succeed," he said.

Yeltsin expressed his own frustration with Milosevic, Lockhart said, characterizing the 45-minute Clinton-Yeltsin conversation as "candid and open."

Clinton thanked members of Congress from both parties for their support. He promised to advise the members of all developments in the operation.

"Clear responsibility for the air strikes lies with President Milosevic, who has refused to stop his violent action in Kosovo and has refused to negotiate in good faith," NATO's Solana said in a statement issued shortly after the air campaign began.

He stressed NATO is not waging war against Yugoslavia. "We have no quarrel with the people of Yugoslavia, who, for too long, have been isolated in Europe because of the policies of their government," he said. "Our actions are directed against the repressive policy of the Yugoslav leadership."

NATO's military men and women carrying out the mission are among the best in the world, Solana said. "I am confident that they will be successful."

Clinton said the action is not free of risks. "I ask for the prayers of all Americans for our men and women in uniform in the area," he said.

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