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  •   Allies Target Yugoslav Phones, Computers

    Belgrade, NATO
    A person scans the skies over Belgrade for NATO planes. (Reuters)
    By William Drozdiak
    Washington Post Foreign Service
    Thursday, May 27, 1999; Page A1

    BRUSSELS, May 26 – NATO military commanders won political approval today to attack some of Yugoslavia's most sensitive sites, including the country's civilian telephone and computer networks, in a bid to cut communications between the Belgrade government and its military forces in Kosovo, senior NATO sources said.

    At a closed-door meeting of alliance ambassadors, NATO's supreme commander, Gen. Wesley K. Clark, said allied warplanes have established air supremacy over Yugoslavia and could now step up airstrikes on such key targets as residences of political leaders, police and ministerial headquarters and the country's basic infrastructure.

    In the past few days of NATO's two-month-old air campaign against Yugoslavia, allied bombing runs have deprived Belgrade and other major cities of much of their electrical capacity and water supplies by knocking out power stations. Attacks on the country's telephone system also would cause hardship for millions of civilians, but allied officials say they also will serve an important military purpose by severing telephone connections that have been largely immune from Western surveillance.

    "The plan is to cut off the main telephone system, drive their computer systems crazy and make sure the Serbs can only use cellular phones that are most vulnerable to eavesdropping by satellite," a senior alliance official said. "There is agreement [among NATO governments] that this is the moment to apply maximum pressure."

    As a portent of what may soon come, allied warplanes staged the heaviest strikes of the bombing campaign today, pummeling Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's main country retreat again along with an array of military targets that included tanks and mortar and artillery batteries across Kosovo, a province of Serbia, Yugoslavia's dominant republic.

    In raids over the past 24 hours, NATO warplanes carried out 650 sorties that included 284 bombing attacks – a daily record for the air campaign. NATO's military spokesman, German Maj. Gen. Walter Jertz, said allied planes struck Milosevic's villa at Dobanovci, 12 miles west of Belgrade, for the fourth time in an attempt to destroy what NATO says is a command and control system based there. Milosevic's whereabouts were not known at the time of the attack.

    Clark told the ambassadors that good weather is expected for the next two weeks and that more than 1,000 warplanes will be able to conduct round-the-clock bombing runs.

    "It was an impressive presentation, and Clark won strong support for his views," said a European NATO ambassador, adding that it is urgent to pressure Belgrade now. "There is a narrow time frame, maybe four to six weeks, to start moving ahead with a resettlement process that can get [ethnic Albanian] refugees back to Kosovo before next winter." NATO is pummeling Serb-led Yugoslavia in an effort to compel it to withdraw army and police forces from Kosovo, to allow ethnic Albanian refugees those forces have driven out to return, and to grant the province wide autonomy.

    Seeking to ease qualms about NATO's targeting process, Clark asserted that despite a dozen or so misguided bombs out of more than 27,000 sorties since the air offensive began, the alliance has conducted the most accurate bombing campaign in history. Clark's appearance was designed to assuage growing consternation among some NATO members about the impact of errant bombs on Western public opinion. Germany and the Netherlands have called for a reevaluation of NATO's targeting methods in the wake of the mistaken attack on the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, as well as others that damaged hospitals, apartments and the residences of some foreign ambassadors.

    Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou met with Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright in Washington today and reiterated his government's proposal for a bombing pause to help spur diplomatic efforts to end the conflict. Greece, a NATO member, has historically close ties to the Serbs.

    Despite jitters over the bombing campaign in Germany, the Netherlands and Greece – as well as Italy – the NATO ambassadors approved Clark's request by consensus. Any individual alliance member can veto such decisions, but that rarely happens.

    The flow of ethnic Albanian refugees from Kosovo into Macedonia eased today after nearly 25,000 had crossed during the previous four days. But U.N. refugee agency workers said thousands more might be waiting on the Kosovo side of the border.

    About 330 Kosovo refugees who entered Albania at the Morina border crossing today did so amid a day-long artillery duel between Serb-led Yugoslav forces and separatist guerrillas fighting for Kosovo independence. About 250 of the refugees were part of a continuing exodus of ethnic Albanian men being released by Serbian police from a prison in the Kosovo town of Smrekovnica.

    An international observer said the cross-border fight began about 4 a.m., apparently after some rebels tried to sneak into Kosovo near the Albanian frontier village of Pogaj, which has been virtually deserted since early May, when NATO bombs destroyed the Yugoslav border facility just opposite it in Gorozhupi.

    The Yugoslav forces responded with mortar, tank, artillery and machine gun fire at three Albanian villages – Pogaj, Kishaj and Cahani. A man and a small girl were killed, and a one guerrilla was wounded in Cahani, officials said.

    NATO diplomats who attended today's meeting in Brussels said Tuesday's decision to expand a potential allied peacekeeping force in Albania and Macedonia to as many as 50,000 troops was designed to coincide with what military commanders expect will be a climax to the bombing campaign that, they hope, will either destroy the Yugoslav 3rd Army in Kosovo or force it to flee.

    British Defense Minister George Robertson said Britain would take the lead by sending three infantry battalions, three commando brigades and helicopter and amphibious groups – a total of more than 12,000 troops. The deployments will raise Britain's force in the region to about 20,000 troops.

    NATO officials said they intend for the force to enter Kosovo in a peacekeeping role after a settlement with Belgrade. But, they said, the perception that it could form the vanguard of an invasion force is something they hope will intimidate Milosevic into bowing to NATO demands.

    Jertz said there were signs that support for Milosevic is cracking in the Yugoslav armed forces after a surge in desertions and anti-government demonstrations in the southern part of the country. In response, authorities have banned further public demonstrations, threatened protesters with loss of their jobs and reservists with court-martial, Jertz said.

    The Pentagon, meanwhile, announced that, because of the air campaign, the Air Force is suspending all scheduled retirements for pilots, navigators, maintenance specialists and other personnel in critical positions. The freeze, which will take effect June 14, will affect about 120,000 active duty airmen, officials said.

    Correspondent John Ward Anderson in Kukes, Albania, and staff writer William Claiborne in Washington contributed to this report.

    © Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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