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U.S., NATO Allies Consult on Kosovo Crisis

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 21, 1999 – U.S. officials are consulting with NATO allies to see what course of action should be taken to deal with the latest violence in Kosovo. Designated NATO forces are now on 48- hour alert.

Yugoslav forces killed more than 40 ethnic Albanians Jan. 15 in the village of Racak. Two unarmed international monitors shot during the massacre escaped serious injury. Two days later, Yugoslav officials expelled William Walker, the American head of the monitoring mission.

At the Pentagon Jan. 20, Defense Secretary William S. Cohen said Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic has clearly violated the cease-fire agreement he made last fall.

"That is a breach of an agreement not only with NATO itself, but the Organization of Security Cooperation in Europe and virtually every organization that is currently trying to bring some peace and stability to that region," Cohen said. He said U.S. Army Gen. Wesley Clark, supreme allied commander Europe, and U.S. and NATO officials are consulting closely to determine actions to be taken.

NATO air strikes remain an option, the secretary said. "It's quite clear NATO has the capability to not only threaten air strikes, but to carry them out," he said.

However, Cohen said, the United States does not intend to be an air force for the Kosovar Liberation Army. "We believe there should be an agreement dealing with providing greater autonomy for the Kosovars, but have not supported their drive for independence. So it's going to require compliance on both sides, not just one," he said.

Cohen repeated the view he voiced last fall: "NATO's credibility is on the line." In October, NATO approved an activation order for phased air strikes against Yugoslav forces and then put it on hold. "The activation order remains in effect, and we are prepared to execute that if that is the will of the NATO membership, said Cohen.

In response to the October threat of a NATO air campaign, Milosevic agreed to withdraw some military and special police forces from Kosovo and to allow international officials to monitor activities in the southern Yugoslav province.

Since then, persistent conflicts and sporadic violence have continued, and tensions have steadily increased between Yugoslav forces and ethnic Albanian liberation forces. The Jan. 15 massacre, witnessed by international monitors, brought the crisis to boiling.

Two days before the attack, Clark told the newspaper Stars and Stripes" that the relative peace in Kosovo was very fragile. He said widespread fighting will return to Kosovo if a new agreement between ethnic Albanian rebels and Yugoslav officials isn't reached in the coming weeks.

He predicted the combination of ongoing rebel buildups, growing Serbian frustration and better weather would prompt both sides to either sign a peace deal or return to civil war. "When these things come together in the February-March time frame, we're going to reach a period of great danger," Clark said Jan. 13 while visiting NATO forces in Macedonia.

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