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U.S. Defense Chiefs Say Allies Stand Ready

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

VILAMOURA, Portugal, Sept. 25, 1998 – With refugees about to face freezing temperatures and starvation in the mountains of Kosovo, time is of the essence in ending the crisis in the Serbian province, according to U.S. defense leaders.

"Patience is running out," said Defense Secretary William S. Cohen, attending NATO meetings here Sept. 23 and 24 with Army Gen. Hugh Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The United Nations and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Cohen said, have sent "a clear message" to Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic that it's time to stop the killing and destruction in Kosovo.

A Sept. 23 U.N. Security Council resolution demanded Yugoslavia cease hostilities in Kosovo, withdraw units used to suppress civilians there, facilitate the return of refugees and the provision of humanitarian aid, and start a dialogue designed to produce a political settlement. NATO approved an activation order Sept. 24 for air operations in Kosovo. NATO previously used air power to bring warring factions in Bosnia to the negotiating table.

"NATO wants to achieve these goals through diplomacy, but today's action makes it clear NATO is prepared to use force if necessary," Cohen said of the activation order. Within a reasonably short period of time, he said, NATO will most likely issue an ultimatum.

He said NATO's credibility is on the line. "There should be an opportunity for Mr. Milosevic to respond to the Security Council's demands, but that should not be an indefinite period of time," Cohen said "One cannot continue to prepare for possible military action, or indeed, threaten military action, unless one is prepared to carry it out."

Cohen said NATO officials agreed to move quickly to avert a humanitarian disaster in Kosovo, where Milosevic has used some 15,000 soldiers and 11,000 security police to attack villages and destroy homes. More than 250,000 people have become refugees in their own country and more than 50,000 have fled Kosovo to other countries, he said.

Chairman Shelton said NATO has a wide range of options available to force Milosevic's compliance with the U.N. demands. He said he'd expect the alliance to start with one of its lighter options and give Milosevic a chance to respond, but stressed that the use of military force is never undertaken lightly.

"Those of us in uniform well understand both the capabilities and the consequences of military action," he said. "It might not end with the light option."

The chairman said both sides must begin serious negotiations to resolve the crisis. The quarter-million refugees in the region must be allowed to return to their homes before they face starvation, disease and exposure in the coming months, he continued.

"All parties must act in good faith to resolve the situation before the crisis deepens and spreads," he said."

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