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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

NATO Gears for Possible Attacks on Yugoslavia




NATO said Wednesday it was sending warships to the Adriatic Sea after Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic refused to back down in the Kosovo crisis.


At the same time, the alliance said it was cutting to 48 hours from 96 its readiness period for executing possible airstrikes against Yugoslav military targets.


NATO sources said the Standing Naval Force Mediterranean would be sent to Italy's Adriatic port of Brindisi and NATO's Strike Force South, including the USS Enterprise battle group, would move from the Aege-an Sea into the Adriatic off the former Yugoslavia.


It described the moves as precautionary.


Earlier, General Wesley Clark, the alliance's supreme commander, told NATO ambassadors that Milosevic had refused to heed calls for restraint during seven hours of talks in Belgrade on Tuesday.


"We were ... not surprised but disappointed by the very stubborn and obdurate reaction we encountered in Belgrade," Clark told reporters.


NATO spokesman Jamie Shea said the Balkan strongman had shown "no flexibility and little willingness" to cooperate with the international community, or abide by commitments he made to NATO on Kosovo.


"As a result NATO is taking certain precautionary measures," Shea said.


NATO has renewed threats of air strikes if Belgrade does not fulfill pledges to seek a peaceful solution to the conflict with ethnic Albanian separatists in Kosovo, a province of Serbia.


Some 2,000 people were killed last year and 250,000 made homeless in a crackdown on majority ethnic Albanians. The latest crisis flared after Saturday's discovery of the bodies of 45 Albanians who Western monitors say were massacred by Serbian forces in the village of Racak. Belgrade denies this.


By Wednesday morning, Serbian police had withdrawn their weapons from around Racak but troops could still be seen moving around in woods above the village. An anti-aircraft that had been placed Monday on a hill above Racak were gone. Signs warning of land mines had been placed near the hill.


"It was quiet last night. Quiet so far this morning," said Sandy Blyth, spokesman for the 800 international monitors in Kosovo under the direction of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.


The future of the monitors has been thrown into doubt by an order from Belgrade to expel the head of their mission, U.S. envoy William Walker, for blaming the Racak killings on Serb security forces. The Yugoslav government initially ordered Walker to leave the country by Wednesday afternoon, but Tuesday unexpectedly gave him an extra 24 hours. He is currently in Belgrade.


The United Nations Security Council called for Belgrade to rescind his expulsion and demanded an immediate investigation into the alleged massacre. It deplored the Yugoslav authorities' refusal to grant access to UN war crimes prosecutor Louise Arbour.


In Moscow, the State Duma, the lower house of Russia's parliament, passed a resolution urging both sides in the Kosovo conflict to show restraint and resume talks. Russia is a traditional Serb ally and the Duma has often backed Belgrade in Balkan crises.


Legislators said they regretted that the world community was often too quick to draw conclusions pinning blame on the Serbs.


"The State Duma is made indignant by violence and killings in Kosovo, in which women and children are often the victims," the resolution said. "All similar incidents, including the latest tragedy near the village of Racak ... have to be thoroughly and objectively investigated by the Yugoslav authorities and the guilty have to be punished."


It said any NATO military action against Serbia would make things worse.


Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Avdeyev was holding talks with Milosevic in Belgrade on Wednesday.


According to the Moscow daily Kommersant, Avdeyev bore a message from President Boris Yeltsin urging Yugoslavia to respect its agreements with the international community.


Belgrade's decision to expel Walker was expected to be the focus of their talks, diplomatic sources said.


Avdeyev's superior, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, expressed concern about escalating violence but has not singled out Belgrade for condemnation over the Racak killings.


Ivanov said Tuesday that Russia would oppose any military action by NATO in Kosovo to punish Belgrade over the massacre, saying the only way to resolve tensions in the region was through diplomacy.


Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev also rejected the use of force, saying that the first casualty would be the quest for a political settlement.