Ethnic Purges Cross Border, Officials Say

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

The "ethnic cleansing" campaign of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic has spread from Serbia into the neighboring republic of Montenegro, Western officials said Tuesday, amid reports that Yugoslav forces have also shelled the hills of Kosovo to flush out ethnic Albanian refugees and deploy them as "human shields" against NATO attacks.

Yugoslav federal troops crossed into Montenegro, which together with the larger republic of Serbia makes up Yugoslavia, and opened fire on a column of ethnic Albanian refugees near the border town of Rozaje, killing six people, including an elderly woman and a 13-year-old boy, authorities there reported.

There also were reports from Rozaje that the mostly ethnic Albanian residents of three nearby Montenegrin villages were expelled Monday and told to join other refugees in Rozaje.

The shootings and expulsions appear to be part of a new drive to purge ethnic Albanians from Montenegrin villages bordering Kosovo, a separatist province of Serbia, NATO spokesman Jamie Shea said in Brussels.

After visiting the scene of the shootings, Montenegrin Deputy Prime Minister Dragisa Burzan said villagers told him that the incident involved both Yugoslav army soldiers and men who appeared to be from paramilitary units.

The reformist government of Montenegro is controlled by political opponents of Milosevic and has not supported his policies of "ethnic cleansing" and confrontation with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Western officials also said Tuesday that Serbian forces have set up at least two centers, at a hotel and an army base, where Kosovo Albanian women have been systematically raped by soldiers and that young boys have been forced to give blood for wounded Yugoslav soldiers.

"Refugees allege that in Pec, Serb forces have rounded up young Albanian women and taken them to [a hotel] where the local commander apparently has organized a roster of his soldiers to allow them all an evening at the hotel," Shea told a news briefing in Brussels.

The NATO spokesman called the developments along the border between Montenegro and Kosovo "one very worrying piece of news . . . [that] can only exacerbate the problem" and threaten to spread mayhem in the region.

The latest incidents of Serbian aggression came despite U.S. and NATO claims of continued success in battering Milosevic's military and security forces through an air campaign that began March 24.

That effort is likely to escalate with the expected arrival in Albania later this week of 24 Apache helicopters meant to attack Yugoslav ground operations--although operations by the aircraft could be days or weeks away, some officials conceded.

Tuesday's developments came as the 19 NATO heads of state prepared to convene in Washington this weekend to assess the state of the conflict and map out the next steps in the war.

In other developments:

* Further heightening fears of a spreading Balkan conflict, Croatia's ambassador to the United Nations charged that 300 Serbian troops had entered a demilitarized zone overnight on the disputed Prevalka peninsula. U.N. Security Council President Alain Dejammet of France said members ordered an investigation by U.N. staff.

* British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said his government will take the rare step of releasing secret intelligence reports on alleged Serbian atrocities to the U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague to "bring those responsible for turning Kosovo into a slaughterhouse" to trial. Cook said the British will hand over information on more than 50 Serbian attacks over the last month and further evidence of atrocities dating back a year that was gathered by British diplomats in Belgrade.

* Despite the day-and-night airstrikes against strategic infrastructure and military facilities in Yugoslavia, Milosevic's forces managed to fire several surface-to-air missiles and artillery rounds at NATO aircraft, though apparently without success.

* In Congress, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and a bipartisan group of other senators introduced a resolution that would authorize President Clinton to use "all necessary force," including ground troops, in Kosovo. A vote is not expected soon on the measure. But the House could vote as early as next week on a resolution calling for a formal declaration of war.

* Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said the United States fully intends to participate in the reconstruction of Kosovo after all NATO objectives have been met.

On the diplomatic front, Russian Foreign Minister Igor S. Ivanov called on both sides in the conflict to end the violence and allow for the return to Kosovo of all ethnic Albanian refugees. But British Prime Minister Tony Blair said NATO's "determination to see this through is absolute, and we will see it through."

Meanwhile, Russia's newly appointed special envoy, Viktor S. Chernomyrdin, flew to three former Soviet republics seeking the support of the heads of Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Georgia for a peace strategy that Moscow has not divulged.

In the air campaign, NATO warplanes had one of their most intense nights Monday and early Tuesday despite imperfect weather. They flew 603 sorties, striking tanks, bridges, roads, industrial sites and command centers, Pentagon officials said. Early today, NATO jets struck a Belgrade high-rise holding the offices of Milosevic's ruling party. The attack touched off a huge fire in the building across the Sava River from the heart of the capital. There was no immediate word on casualties.

In Brussels, Blair also provided details of the air war on the 27th day of Operation Allied Force.

The effort continued to focus on Yugoslav ground forces within Kosovo, and at least 13 different military targets were attacked by a range of aircraft, he said. At those targets were at least five tanks and four other armored vehicles and as many as 20 other military vehicles.

Also hit were a troop assembly area, a surface-to-surface missile system, ammunition depots, army headquarters and airfields.

All told, Blair said, allied forces have destroyed half of Yugoslavia's fleet of MIG-29 jet fighters and a quarter of its MIG-21s.

"We've severely damaged airfields and aircraft support facilities of the Serbian military machine," Blair said. "We've inflicted severe damage on their command-and-control facilities, degraded the key routes and other assets which they use to move and remove supplies and forces within Kosovo and into Kosovo from other parts of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, and we've destroyed over 25% of Serbia's stored fuel and severely degraded the whole of Serbia's fuel refining capability."

Meanwhile, U.S. officials said the long-expected arrival of 24 Apache gunships in Albania was again delayed by bad weather. NATO forces have been preparing to receive the helicopters for some days, but deep mud in the airfield at Tirana, the Albanian capital, has prevented their arrival from Italy.

Half of the helicopters are now expected to arrive today, and the remainder on Thursday--weather permitting. The gunships are highly effective against enemy ground forces.

Pentagon officials also announced that 11 additional Apache helicopter crews were being dispatched from the 18th Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, N.C., and that the total Apache-related force assembling in Albania will be about 3,300 soldiers, or several hundred more than envisioned just days ago.

In the shelling of Kosovo Albanians seeking refuge in the hills of the province, Shea said Serbian security forces had mounted "a kind of safari operation."

"First, there is a pattern of shelling into the hills, where the refugees are hiding, so that they are forced to come down, beating them out of the bush." Then they are "mixed up with military vehicles," apparently to shield the equipment from possible bombing, Shea said.

Some of the refugees have been forced to stand in front of tanks in the rain for two days with their hands tied behind their heads, he said.

*

Chen reported from Washington, Holley from Podgorica, Yugoslavia, and Havemann from Brussels. Times staff writers Richard C. Paddock in Moscow, Marjorie Miller in London, Janet Hook and Paul Richter in Washington, Marc Lacey in Kukes, Albania, and Janet Wilson at the United Nations contributed to this report.

On the Web

Extended coverage of the crisis in Yugoslavia is available at The Times' Web site at http://www.latimes.com/yugo. Coverage includes hourly updates, all Times stories since NATO launched its attack, video clips, information on how to help the refugees, a primer on the conflict and access to our discussion group.

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