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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Rights Leader Jackson Calls for Peace

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia -- U.S. civil rights leader Jesse Jackson met with the head of the Serbian Orthodox Church on Friday and appealed for his help in securing the release of three U.S. soldiers held captive since March 31.

Jackson, who arrived in the Yugoslav capital Thursday to try to visit the soldiers, met with Patriarch Pavle and planned to talk later with Yugoslav Foreign Minister Zivadin Jovanovic.

"We people of faith have to create a climate for diplomatic talks, to build the bridges for diplomacy and trust,'' the Reverend Jackson said in his meeting with the patriarch.

"We must love our enemy f that is the key for peace.''

Jackson spent the night in Belgrade during a bombardment that inflicted heavy damage on Yugoslav army headquarters and other government buildings, as well as striking a residential neighborhood.

"Until there's a diplomatic breakthrough, the bombing will escalate and will expand,'' Jackson told reporters, calling the bombing "intense.''

"On the one hand, NATO has shown strong resolve. The U.S. Congress, on the other hand, dropped a bomb by demanding more clarity,'' he said, referring to a vote Wednesday in the House of Representatives rejecting a measure to support the air campaign.

"Perhaps that leaves room for a diplomatic initiative by the Yugoslavs to signal a willingness to address the three critical points: Stop the violence in Kosovo, repatriation of refugees safely with dignity and security, and a multinational peacekeeping force that protects Serbs and Albanians alike.''

During his trip Jackson hopes to meet with both President Slobodan Milosevic and the three American prisoners: Staff Sergeant Andrew Ramirez, 24, of Los Angeles; Specialist Steven Gonzales, 21, of Huntsville, Texas; and Staff Sergeant Christopher Stone, 25, of Smiths Creek, Michigan.

President Bill Clinton's administration, despite its objections to his mission, urged Jackson to tell Milosevic there can be no link between halting NATO airstrikes and the release of the soldiers, who were captured March 31 along the Yugoslav-Macedonian border.

Jackson acknowledged Thursday that "there is some risk'' in undertaking the mission at a time when NATO jets and missiles have been hitting the Belgrade area nightly. He added: "We made the judgment to take the risk.''

Jackson is on the three-day trip with a group of American Christian, Jewish and Moslem leaders. The 19-member delegation was openly relieved at the reception Thursday. The Reverend Joan Brown Campbell, general secretary of the National Council of Churches, described meetings scheduled Friday with the soldiers and Saturday with Milosevic as "a serious program.''

The clerics have said they hope to persuade Milosevic to release the soldiers as an act of good will that could lead to a diplomatic solution in Kosovo.

The group flew on commercial airlines from Washington to Zagreb, Croatia, arriving Thursday. The clerics then traveled in a rented bus, crammed with television crew members and journalists, to the border. From there they took a bus provided by the Yugoslav government to Belgrade.