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U.S., NATO Turn Thumbs Down on Milosevic Offer

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 31, 1999 – President Clinton, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, French President Jacques Chirac and other NATO leaders have rejected a March 29 Yugoslav proposal to end the fighting in Kosovo.

After meeting with Russian Premier Yevgeniy Primakov in Belgrade, Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic said he would withdraw some of his forces if NATO halted its air strikes.

Clinton called the proposal "unacceptable," and said it's up to Milosevic to bring his brutal campaign in Kosovo to "an immediate end and embrace a just peace."

In a statement released early March 30, Clinton said, "There is a strong consensus in NATO that we must press forward with our military action."

Later in the day at a State Department ceremony, the president said the NATO allies are united in their outrage over Milosevic's atrocities against innocent people. "We are determined to stay with our policy what is happening today must strengthen our resolution," he said.

"We are all dealing today with the same horrible pattern of conduct we saw in Bosnia," Clinton said. A quarter of a million innocent people were driven from their homes in Kosovo in 1998, he said. The crisis escalated in January and February when Milosevic's forces moved from village to village in the Serb province, violating the agreement he had made last October.

"Now it is clear that as the Kosovar leaders were saying yes to peace, Mr. Milosevic was planning a new campaign of expulsions and executions in Kosovo," Clinton said. "He started carrying out that plan as the talks ended, increasing our sense of urgency that the air strikes NATO had threatened for some time must begin."

NATO now has credible reports that Milosevic's troops are "singling out for murder the moderate Kosovar leaders who supported a peaceful solution," Clinton said. More refugees are streaming from the province, joining the more than half a million who have fled since the fighting began.

"If there was ever any doubt about what is at stake in Kosovo," Clinton said, "Mr. Milosevic is certainly erasing it by his actions. They are the culmination of more than a decade of using ethnic and religious hatred as a justification for uprooting and murdering completely innocent, peaceful civilians to pave Mr. Milosevic's path to absolute power."

NATO's air campaign is designed to "raise the price of that policy," Clinton added. "Today, he faces the mounting cost of his continued aggression. For a sustained period, his military will be seriously diminished, key military infrastructure destroyed and the prospect of international support for Serbia's claim to Kosovo increasingly jeopardized.

"We must remain steady and determined, with the will to see this through," he concluded.

NATO spokesman Jamie Shea said March 31 that the North Atlantic Council appreciated Primakov's difficult, but failed, attempt to negotiate a settlement. "NATO welcomes all efforts by the international community to persuade Belgrade to stop the violence," he said.

Milosevic's offer, however, fell far short of NATO's requirements, Shea said. Milosevic offered no end to the fighting, which continued unabated even as he met Primakov in Belgrade, Shea remarked.

The Serb leader offered no guarantee to withdraw his forces, he continued. "He made only a vague offer to start negotiations without accepting the current basis of the Rambouillet [France] peace agreement, and gave no indication whatever of a willingness to accept the refugees back and help them to resettle."

Therefore, Shea said, NATO authorities have drawn the "obvious and only conclusion" possible. NATO air strikes will continue.

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