A Stern Warning To The Serbs

The U.S. government is laying the groundwork in Congress for possible new NATO air strikes against Serb military positions to retaliate for the weekend massacres of ethnic Albanians. The State Department prepared a travel advisory urging Americans not to travel in Yugoslavia.

As President Bill Clinton dispatched his national security team to Capitol Hill on Thursday to brief lawmakers, Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle suggested military action
"may be required" to enforce diplomacy.

At the White House, presidential spokesman Mike McCurry said the United States would respond to NATO's formal request to use air power after international condemnation mounted in response to the mass shootings of ethnic Albanian civilians in Yugoslavia's embattled province of Kosovo.

"When faced with diplomacy backed by force, Milosevic has backed down," McCurry said. He added that Milosevic "needs to act very quickly to remove Serb security forces that are likely reponsible for atrocities" in Kosovo.

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright endorsed a British call for a special U.N. Security Council meeting Thursday.

Two separate massacre sites were discovered in Kosovo this week, with as many as 18 mutilated bodies found in the forests near Obrija. In the western village of Golubovac, at least 13 men were shot to death. Villagers claimed that Serbian forces surrounded a pocket of ethnic Albanian refugees there last Saturday and singled out their victims.

The ethnic Albanians' Kosovo Information Center claimed late Wednesday that 18 more bodies had been found around a third village, Glogovac, in the Drenica region. The center said the victims all showed clear signs of torture and that three were shot in the back of the head. The claim could not be confirmed, and it was possible it referred to another site.

The killings alerted NATO leaders that the fighting between Serb security forces and ethnic Albanian rebels in Kosovo has only escalated.

The Serbs have tried to justify their actions by saying they want to destroy the army that is seeking to take Kosovo from Yugoslavia; the rebel Kosovo Liberation Army is seeking independence for Kosovo, whose population is mostly ethnic Albanian. However, the war has been waged against civilians, and the Serbs' victims are often old men, women, and young children.

In the Obrija killings, diplomats, human rights workers, and journalists saw evidence of murder at close range after the refugees had attempted to flee into the woods.

The authorities say they are withdrawing their troops back to barracks, but while there is evidence of the troops leaving, they still are shelling and burning Albanian villages.

The U.N. Security Council helding informal consultations after British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook called for an emergency meeting to condemn the massacre.

The council wasn't expected to take any major action Thursday. A statement to the press, condemning the massacre, was the likely outcome, council diplomats said.

The call for the meeting, however, came as NATO ambassadors were finalizing plans for airstrikes against Serbs. The Contact Group of six states -- the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Russia -- was arranging to meet in London Friday to discuss their next move.

Once again, sanctions haven't worked and British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook says preparations are under way for NATO intervention.

"NATO is now ready to act," Cook said. "President Milosevic will be making a big mistake if he did not recognize the revolution across Europe at this latest atrocity. He must now move to comply with the security council resolution and he must move fast."

Even if the Yugoslavia troops do withdraw, the war-torn region is still a dangerous place. Ethnic Albanian leaders and an international aid organization designated Thursday as a day of mourning for a Red Cross worker killed when his truck hit a land mine.

Sheptim Robaj, an ethnic Albanian doctor working for the International Committee of the Red Cross, died Wednesday. His death highlighted the difficulties and dangers for aid groups trying to help some of the estimated 275,000 Kosovo residents driven from their homes this year by fighting between Serb forces and ethnic Albanian rebels.

The U.N. is now waiting for eyewitness accounts to corroborate reports that the massacres were the work of the Serb army. Authorities say that a week could go by before confirmations are made, and any action against Milosevic may then come too late to save other civilians in danger.