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Crisis Looms in Kosovo

American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 21, 1998 – Winter's approach in the Serbian province of Kosovo may create "a major humanitarian disaster," President Clinton warned Sept. 16.

"There are many tens of thousands of people who have been dislocated from their homes," Clinton said. Up to 100,000 refugees are in the high mountains, where the weather will turn cold sooner than in the rest of the country, he said.

U.S. officials are trying to help avert disaster, Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon said Sept. 17. The United States has already provided about $11 million to nongovernmental relief agencies and plans to provide another $20 million, he said. Future options include delivering humanitarian rations to the refugees, but talk now of specific plans is premature, he said.

The displaced Kosovars moved to escape violence between Serb authorities and ethnic Albanian Kosovars seeking independence. Tens of thousands more refugees have crossed into neighboring nations, and Serb forces continue to drive people out of villages.

Bacon said the United States remains committed to achieving a diplomatic solution. Christopher Hill, U.S. ambassador to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, is pursuing a negotiated settlement, and U.S. officials are consulting with NATO allies.

Bacon said NATO has not decided to use military force nor ruled it out, but it has developed plans that range from air strikes to deploying ground troops to enforce a cease-fire. One reason for using military force, he said, might be to help the diplomats stop Serbian brutality and ethnic cleansing.

Clinton blamed Serb President Slobodan Milosevic for the impending crisis. "The big problem here is Mr. Milosevic is determined to get a military solution if he can, instead of pursuing a diplomatic solution," the president said.

While the situation in Kosovo is not identical to the Bosnian crisis, Clinton said, "We don't want a repeat of Bosnia. We don't want another round of instability there. I think it is imperative that we move forthrightly, with our allies, as firmly as possible, to avert the humanitarian tragedy and then to get a political solution."

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