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NATO Air War Stirs Serb Dissent Against Milosevic Regime

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 20, 1999 – NATO's air campaign is working: Public dissent against Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's Kosovo policy is growing within Serbia, according to senior U.S. and NATO officials.

"Each day we hear reports of desertions in the Serbian army, dissension in Belgrade, [and] unrest in Serbian communities," President Clinton said May 20 at the White House. Milosevic's delay in meeting NATO's demands to withdraw his forces and allow the ethnic Albanians to go home is destroying Yugoslavia's military. "How much damage will be done to Serbia because of his delays?" Clinton asked.

The president said there is growing evidence of Serb massacres of civilians and strongly condemned the Serbs' use of human shields. "In trying to divert attention from these crimes, Serbian forces are only committing more by placing civilians around military targets," he said. "It's like pushing someone in front of an oncoming train and then trying to blame the train for running them over.

"We will not allow this cruel tactic to deceive or divert us from our goal," Clinton said. "We need to stay focused and patient in pursuit of our simple objective, to defend the right of a people to exist on their land without being subject to mass expulsion and mass murder."

In recent days, fairly large demonstrations against the war and Milosevic's regime took place in three towns in central Serbia, according to Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon. Apparently, the government had withheld information from the Serb people about the toll NATO air strikes have taken on Serb forces, he said. Although NATO has no statistics on Serb troop losses, Milosevic has publicly said there have been "many, many casualties," Bacon said.

When casualty reports and coffins reached the town of Krusevac, they triggered the largest demonstration to date, officials said. More than 3,000 people took to the streets demanding an end to the war and calling for reservists from the area to come home, NATO officials said. Their slogan was, "We want sons, not coffins." Serb authorities reportedly used water hoses against Serb women and children.

The Krusevac protest reportedly sparked desertions, mainly among reservists serving in the Serb army, Bacon said. Between 500 and 1,000 troops left Kosovo and tried to move back to Krusevac to protect their families from mistreatment by Milosevic's special police.

During another protest in the town of Cacak, Bacon said, citizens condemned NATO's bombing campaign. They also called on Serb leaders to "find a way to end the destruction of their already impoverished country and stop the killing of civilians and soldiers," he said.

NATO spokesman Jamie Shea said things reportedly turned sour in the town of Alexandrovac when about 1,000 people gathered to bid farewell to reservists who had been on leave. He said scuffles started when the townspeople demanded the mayor prevent the reservists' departure and he responded by spouting the party line.

The incidents show war weariness is increasing among the Yugoslav population, Shea noted. The "spirit of protest is far from lost in Serbia today," he said. Ordinary Yugoslav men are more interested in fatherhood than the fatherland. "Wages are no longer being paid. Fear is mounting. People are beginning to turn against the regime and call it to account."

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