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Serbs: Bombing Hampering Withdrawal

May 16, 1999

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (AP) _ Yugoslavia said Sunday that intense NATO bombing of Kosovo is obstructing Serb troop withdrawals _ even as NATO warplanes launched new raids over Prizren, near Korisa, the village where 87 civilians were reported killed by allied bombs three days ago.

In Brussels, Belgium, NATO said it will not let up on bombing Kosovo despite the risk of Serbs using ethnic Albanians as ``human shields″ near military targets.

Britain said there was new evidence from survivors of Korisa that Serb police ordered them down from hideouts in the hills, refused to let them return to their homes, and held them in a concentrated area until NATO attacked.

Yugoslavia dismissed the claims as crazy.

The Yugoslav military told reporters Sunday that NATO has doubled attacks on Kosovo since a Yugoslav announcement that a partial troop withdrawal had been ordered, starting a week ago.

``Under such conditions, clearly it is impossible to carry out the grouping for the partial withdrawal of army and police force,″ said army Col. Milivoje Novkovic, head of the Yugoslav Supreme Command’s press service.

Reading from a prepared statement, Novkovic said that despite the bombardment, the army is using a ``phased approach″ to pull out some units.

NATO says there is no evidence of any Serb forces pulling out of Kosovo, and derided as insignificant and probably a sham a filmed departure of 120 smiling and waving soldiers on Thursday.

Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic has an estimated 40,000 troops and special police forces in Kosovo, a province of Yugoslavia’s Serb republic.

The Serbs are widely blamed for the brutal expulsion of some 790,000 ethnic Albanians _ nearly half the population _ since NATO began its air campaign March 24 aimed at forcing Milosevic to accept a Western-directed peace settlement for the province.

NATO demands include autonomy for Kosovo, the total withdrawal of Serb forces, the return of refugees and the deployment of an international peacekeeping force.

At the army news conference, Novkovic accused NATO of lying to disguise its true goal _ ``to occupy our country and forever rule our region.″

The casualties at Korisa, which NATO says is a Serb military command post, marked the highest civilian toll in a single bombing of the campaign.

The high toll, including more than 100 people injured, provoked Serb denunciations of NATO _ and suspicions in the alliance that Serbs trapped the ethnic Albanians next to a known target.

In London, British Defense Minister John Spellar said there were continued reports from survivors that Serbs ordered them into Korisa.

``On their return they were ... herded into concentrated areas within the village and held there until the NATO attack took place,″ said Spellar.

Tanjug, the state-controlled news agency, said there were no immediate reports of casualties from Sunday’s raids over Prizren, 45 miles from the Kosovo capital, Pristina. Yugoslav air defense shot down a Tomahawk cruise missile 12 miles from Pristina, the agency said.

Earlier, the Yugoslav media said NATO attacked the Bor mining complex near the Romanian border, injuring six workers and causing extensive damage in the town of 20,000.

Explosions were reported in Pozarevac, the hometown of President Slobodan Milosevic, about 45 miles southeast of the capital.

Civil defense squads worked Sunday in two Belgrade suburbs, Batajnica and Lisicji, defusing unexploded NATO bombs, officials said.

At Kosovo’s border with Macedonia, 400 more refugees arrived by train from Urosevac, 20 miles from the border, telling of living in terror for weeks and playing cat-and-mouse with Serb forces.

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