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NATO Chiefs Greeted by Kosovo Cheers

June 24, 1999

PRISTINA, Yugoslavia (AP) _ Ethnic Albanians thronged NATO’s civilian and military leaders in Kosovo’s capital Thursday, welcoming them with cheers and tears of gratitude for the bombing campaign that forced out Yugoslav troops.

Meanwhile, the U.S. government put up a $5 million reward for help in arresting and convicting anyone wanted by the U.N. war crimes tribunal for the Balkans. Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic is among those who have been indicted.

NATO leaders basked in their jubilant reception in Pristina but soberly noted that Kosovo’s people face a long, difficult struggle to free themselves from the hatreds that grip the Serbian province.

As the alliance’s secretary-general military commander toured the city, NATO peacekeepers were investigating the gruesome killing of three people at Pristina University and a gunbattle between Serbs and Albanians erupted in a hallway at the main hospital.

In Pec, one of Kosovo’s most important cities, fires leveled Serb homes and much of the city’s Gypsy quarter. Local Serbs said the blazes were part of an intensifying revenge campaign by Albanians.

``I would like to call on all Kosovo Albanians, and indeed on all the other people of Kosovo, not to allow ethnic hatred or the desire for revenge to cut their hearts,″ NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana said at an afternoon news conference.

He spoke after meeting with Serb and Albanian representatives, including Hashim Thaci, political leader of the rebel Kosovo Liberation Army.

``After this conversation, I really think there is hope,″ Solana said of the meeting, which lasted more than 90 minutes. He praised Thaci for signing an agreement with NATO calling for the KLA to demilitarize.

U.S. Army Gen. Wesley Clark, the NATO military commander, said the mounting number of mass graves and other evidence of atrocities being uncovered since the peacekeepers entered Kosovo on June 12 vindicated NATO’s decision to bomb Yugoslavia.

``I think NATO actions were fully justified. What you see here is the magnitude of the horror that required NATO action,″ Clark said.

On Thursday, NATO troops detained a man identified by residents of the village of Solvinije as one of the perpetrators of a massacre there. Witnesses said 43 men were executed by Serbs and two women were raped before being killed.

During their walk through central Pristina to inspect damage, Solana, Clark and NATO’s commander in Kosovo, British Lt. Gen. Mike Jackson, were surrounded by several hundred ethnic Albanians, clapping and chanting ``NATO! NATO!″

One elderly man in a traditional conical white hat gave Solana a kiss on the cheek and a big hug as tears streamed down his face.

``I never knew how I would see this. But I’m very moved, very moved,″ Solana said.

In Washington, the State Department announced the $5 million reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of people sought by the U.N. tribunal trying war crimes cases from the conflicts in Bosnia and Kosovo.

In addition to Milosevic and four colleagues who were indicted last month for alleged crimes in Kosovo, the tribunal also has indicted former Bosnian Serb leaders Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic. They were charged in the massacre of 6,000 Bosnian Muslims in 1995.

Also Thursday, the Yugoslav parliament rescinded the state of war it declared after NATO bombing began March 24.

The decision, effective Saturday, would lift media restrictions, a prohibition on military-age men leaving the country and a ban on public gatherings.

But the parliament is to vote Friday on measures to give the Milosevic government power to crack down on dissent and keep its wartime controls over banking and the economy.

Milosevic’s autocratic rule has been shaken by the Kosovo conflict, in which Yugoslavia sustained heavy bombing damage and was forced to agree to withdraw troops from Kosovo and allow in a NATO-led force.

Adding to the pressure, disgruntled Yugoslav army reservists blocked roads in central Serbia for the second straight day Thursday, demanding back pay for service during the bombing campaign.

An estimated 50,000 Serbs have fled Kosovo since the end of the war, fearing Albanian revenge for Serb atrocities and for years of oppression. Some 860,000 ethnic Albanians fled Kosovo beginning in March.

Although NATO forces have vowed to make Kosovo secure and the KLA has promised to demilitarize, anger and vengeance remained evident Thursday.

A Serb was killed and an ethnic Albanian wounded in a gunbattle when a family of Albanian refugees returned to their Pristina apartment and found it occupied by Serbs. The victims were taken to the capital’s main hospital, where their relatives began shooting at each other in a hallway, wounding a guard and a nurse.

Bodies of three men, including a Serb professor, were found in the Serb-run economics department at Pristina University. They appeared to have been beaten and then shot, said the dean of the economics department, Milos Simovic. NATO soldiers sealed off the basement and were investigating.

The fires in Pec, a city that once held 100,000 people but now is nearly deserted, started before daybreak, and columns of smoke rose into the sky over the city throughout the day. At least 10 homes burned by early evening, one in sight of an Orthodox Serb monastery where increasing numbers of the city’s Serbs are taking shelter.

Despite the difficulties confronting his troops trying to keep a lid on ethnic tensions, Clark, the NATO commander, said he was pleased so far with the alliance’s operation.

``I think it’s going extremely well,″ he said. ``We’re meeting all of our objectives and milestones.″

Elsewhere, FBI forensic experts began gathering evidence at two sites in the western Kosovo town of Djakovica. The U.S. ambassador-at-large for war crimes issues, David Scheffer, said their work would be vital to uncovering evidence Serbs tried to hide or destroy.

He said the Serb army and the military police ``violated so many different laws of war that they were almost the perfect model of how not to conduct warfare.″

``There’s a profusion of atrocity sites throughout Kosovo,″ Scheffer said. ``They are popping up every day.″

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