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Refugee Exodus Spurs NATO Strikes

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 30, 1999 – NATO is expanding its around-the-clock air campaign against Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's forces in a race to stop his "murderous ways," Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon said here March 29.

NATO air forces are striking the Serbs' army and special police force headquarters, staging areas, barracks and other infrastructure. In the days ahead, NATO will target the troops, tanks, artillery and other equipment now causing a mass refugee exodus from Kosovo. The goal, Bacon said, is to degrade the forces causing "a reign of terror and death in Kosovo."

The allied strikes are systematically "choking off" Milosevic's ability to sustain military operations, Bacon said. "But the impact of choking off supply lines and eliminating ammo facilities and fuel supplies is a delayed impact, and it may take some time to see that," he said.

About 20,000 Serb troops and police are massed near Kosovo and 17,000 to 20,000 are widely dispersed within the province, Bacon said. There are no huge concentrations of troops or large units marching down roads, he said.

"It's more like small groups trying to either destroy and pillage villages on the one hand, or small groups going after concentrations of the Kosovar Liberation Army," he said.

To date, more than 2,000 people have died in the fighting, and nearly half a million people have been displaced. Bacon noted there is no doubt who is responsible for these attacks. Milosevic has ordered massacres and summary executions, he said.

"Even before the [peace talks in Rambouillet, France] recessed, Milosevic began stationing more tanks and troops either in or close to Kosovo, and he began a series of attacks the day after the talks were suspended," Bacon noted. "There's no doubt as to where the responsibility for these attacks lie, and it is a race against Milosevic's murderous ways."

Even as NATO planes launch bombs and missiles night after night, the Yugoslav leader persists in a rampage of ethnic cleansing, causing thousands to flee for their lives, Bacon said.

During the first phase of the NATO air campaign, 80 percent of the targets were Serb military facilities throughout Yugoslavia, Bacon said. In the second phase NATO has now entered, about half the targets are Serb headquarters and staging areas within Kosovo, he said.

There is no magic "quick solution" that will quickly stop the killing, Bacon stressed. There was no support within NATO for a massive ground operation to invade and occupy Kosovo, he said. NATO authorities determined it would require 200,000 troops. From the U.S. standpoint, Bacon said, President Clinton has no intention of sending ground troops to Kosovo until after a peace agreement is signed.

Even if some NATO countries decided to deploy ground troops from Europe to Kosovo, Bacon said, it would take some time for them to deploy and become operational. "They would not be there tomorrow," he stressed. "It would probably be a matter of weeks or more than a month before these troops were on the ground in Kosovo doing a job.

"You have to remember, this is very heavily defended area," Bacon said. "There are now 40,000 Yugoslav army troops with over 400 tanks, over 300 armored personnel carriers and over 400 artillery pieces either massed in Kosovo or nearby Kosovo. There are heavy concentrations of artillery along the border between Kosovo and Macedonia.

"There are only 14 roads into Kosovo, two from Macedonia," Bacon continued. "These roads are mined. The bridges are mined. There are built-in tank and artillery positions along lines of communication. No one would mount a light attack against this. It would have to be an extremely heavy and determined attack. It would take time to organize such an attack."

The only acceptable solution is for Milosevic to stop his murdering today, Bacon concluded. "That would end the problem," he said. "That would allow people to come back to their homes, even if they're burned out, and start rebuilding their lives."

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