Home > 1997-1999 from the Balkans, Kosovo, Serbia, Yougoslavia > AS SERBS’ KOSOVO OFFENSIVE WINDS DOWN, WEST ISSUES BELATED WARNING


August 7, 1998

by Guy Dinmore. Special to the Tribune. Tribune news services contributed to this report.
August 7, 1998

SRBICA, Yugoslavia — Serbian forces on Thursday shelled the few remaining pockets of resistance by ethnic Albanian rebels in Kosovo province, despite U.S. warnings of possible military intervention if Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic does not show restraint.

In Washington on Thursday, the Pentagon announced that NATO and European troops will hold exercises in Albania beginning next week and in Macedonia next month. Defense Department spokesman Ken Bacon said the exercises should serve as a warning to Milosevic to end his military offensive in Kosovo.

“I don’t think that he should doubt our ability to move forces in very quickly, whether they be air forces or ground forces,” Bacon told reporters in response to questions about the exercises.

Bacon also said that NATO plans for possible military intervention in the Kosovo situation are “largely done” and that NATO’s patience is wearing thin over the continuing violence in Kosovo. He said the plans could be completed by the end of Friday.

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright told Milosevic he should halt his military offensive in Kosovo, which she said increases the threat of NATO military intervention.
State Department spokesman James Foley said Albright expressed the “strong view that the ongoing Serb offensive and the unacceptable actions that have taken place in the context of that offensive only increase the chances of there being military action on the part of NATO.”
That echoed U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke’s warning on Wednesday that the Serbian operation, which continued despite assurances by Milosevic to the contrary, “increases dramatically the likelihood or possibility of active Western intervention of a military sort.”
But the warnings, which followed a period of virtual silence in Western capitals, appear to have come too late. The offensive is already winding down, with main roads and supply routes under police control.
In Kosovo on Thursday, smoke hung over the central village of Lausa where a few fighters of the separatist Kosovo Liberation Army are believed to be holding out, as well as a small number of civilians trapped by the fighting. The village has been burning since Tuesday, when the authorities reported its capture.
The occasional boom of artillery fire could be heard, but police manning a checkpoint between Lausa and nearby Srbica prevented journalists and U.S. and British diplomatic observers from going farther.
Government forces have captured a swath of central and southern Kosovo over the past week, burning villages and fields and routing tens of thousands of civilians. KLA rebels have mostly retreated in disarray but are believed to have suffered few casualties.
Several towns and villages in the central Drenica region appear abandoned. Fields of corn and sunflowers stand unharvested. Police at checkpoints were in a jaunty mood, reading proclamations of victory in the official media.
Thousands of refugees and some KLA fighters are crammed into a small strip of wooded and hilly land on the eastern edge of Drenica, some spilling over into main towns in the valley below.
Aid agencies want to get the refugees back to their homes before epidemics and food shortages set in.
In Belgrade, Milosevic said state institutions were targeting “terrorists” and that measures were being taken to protect civilians and their property. No mention was made of the United Nations’ estimate of 200,000 refugees–10 percent of Kosovo’s mostly ethnic Albanian population–or the destruction of villages.
Helicopters flew over villages dropping leaflets urging civilians to disassociate themselves from the KLA and return to their homes. How they are supposed to do this is unclear, as hundreds of farms have been destroyed by shellfire or burned to the ground by advancing Serb security forces.
After meeting in Belgrade on Thursday with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Nikolai Afanasyevsky, the Yugoslav leader said the Kosovo conflict could be resolved only by political means and he urged the divided Kosovo Albanian leadership to reopen peace talks.
Russia opposes military intervention by NATO in Kosovo and would be likely to block any attempts to pass a UN Security Council resolution authorizing the Western alliance to use force. Milosevic said he and the Russian envoy agreed that Kosovo was Serbia’s internal affair.
Milosevic also urged Western governments to condemn KLA “terrorism” and cut off its funds. The Swiss government has frozen bank accounts believed to hold several million dollars raised by Albanians in Europe for the KLA.
The state news agency Tanjug accused foreign journalists and “so-called humanitarian workers” of “playing a dirty game” of lies to provoke NATO into a military response.
Tanjug was referring to reports of mass graves found near the southern town of Orhaovac where fierce fighting erupted last month. Serbian officials said that one grave site holds the bodies of 40 “terrorists” killed in action.

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