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Biggest Day Yet For Air War


NATO jets Wednesday inflicted the alliance's most extensive strikes yet on Yugoslavia, amid reports that Serb leader Slobodan Milosevic is about to be indicted as a war criminal.

The U.N. war-crimes tribunal in the Hague, Netherlands says it is armed with evidence of atrocities in Kosovo "on a massive scale," and an indictment against Milosevic could be announced as soon as Thursday morning.

The indictment of Milosevic may be well deserved, but it is not likely to improve the chances of a peace agreement, reports CBS News National Security Correspondent David Martin.

If the expected indictment only hardens Milosevic's determination to fight on, NATO's strategy of relying solely on air strikes to bring him to terms will be put to the test, and some senior U.S. military leaders fear it might fail.

Army Chief of Staff Dennis Reimer told reporters Wednesday he "had concerns about whether air power would do it by itself."

With the bombing entering its third month, there is still no sign Milosevic has called off his ethnic cleansing and in fact the estimate of the number of Serb troops in Kosovo has actually increased from 40,000 to 50,000.

The air campaign is clearly doing serious damage, but senior military officials say it gives the initiative to Milosevic by letting him decide if and when he's had enough. Combat troops could drive Serb forces out of Kosovo no matter what he decided.

So far, the only ground operation NATO has agreed to is a 50,000 man peacekeeping force which would go into Kosovo only after Milosevic accepts NATO's terms. But allied officials are trying to convince him the peacekeepers could be the vanguard of a much larger invasion force.

British Defense Minister George Robertson said Wednesday, "This is a peace implementation force. But we -- the prime minister, the president of the United States and NATO -- have made it clear that all other options are on the table a will be carefully considered."

For now, Pentagon officials say the option of invading Kosovo remains an illusion since there is still strong opposition both within the U.S. government and within NATO.


AP
A Dutch soldier passes a truckload of refugees headed for Albania.

Meanwhile, Serb forces are making their big push to empty Kosovo of ethnic Albanians. The U.N. says 22,000 refugees have arrived in Macedonia i the last three days, the biggest influx in weeks.

This latest wave of ethnic cleansing is going ahead despite the heaviest NATO air raids of the war.

The allies bombarded Kosovo's capital, Pristina, its surroundings and the northern city of Novi Sad, Serb media reported. Sustained NATO strikes also were reported in central and southern Yugoslavia as well as an area north of the port of Bar in Montenegro, the pro-Western republic that along with Serbia makes up Yugoslavia.

Alliance jets also focused again on Milosevic's villa just west of Belgrade, which NATO says contains a command and control bunker. It is believed to be Milosevic's main hideout, but his whereabouts were unknown at the time of the attack. It was the fourth time NATO has targeted the villa.

NATO reported early Wednesday that it had flown 650 sorties in the previous 24 hours, including a record 284 attack flights, hitting artillery, tanks and mortars in Kosovo.

On the diplomatic front, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott met in Moscow with Russian envoy Viktor Chernomyrdin, who's due to fly to Belgrade Thursday to see Milosevic. The U.S. and Russia are trying to put together a set of joint demands, to be backed by a resolution from the U.N. Security Council.

Also Wednesday, a U.N. fact-finding team wrapped up an 11-day mission to Yugoslavia, calling the situation in Kosovo "calamitous" and the humanitarian needs "immense."

The head of the mission, Sergio Vieira de Mello, rejected Serb explanations for the widespread destruction and looting of the homes and businesses of ethnic Albanians, saying the arguments could not "explain or justify the magnitude and geographic extent of the internal displacement and the refugee phenomenon."

©1999 CBS Worldwide Corp. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report