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NATO Keeping Warplanes in Kosovo

October 28, 1998

PRISTINA, Yugoslavia (AP) _ NATO is keeping more than 400 warplanes on alert to make sure that President Slobodan Milosevic continues to withdraw forces from Kosovo and allows tens of thousands of refugees to return home.

With Yugoslav forces drawing back, the Western military alliance did not set any new deadlines for airstrikes after the previous one expired Tuesday.

But by warning that the threat of attack remains, NATO hoped to guarantee the safety of the ethnic Albanian refugees, who are terrified of returning home unless government troops and Serb police are held back.

``We know that President Milosevic only moves when he is presented with the credible threat of force,″ NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana told a news conference after a 2 1/2-hour meeting of NATO ambassadors in Brussels, Belgium.

``This crisis is far from over,″ he added. ``I urge both sides to take advantage of the opportunity that now exists to move the political process forward.″

In an Oct. 12 peace deal, American negotiator Richard Holbrooke demanded that Milosevic cut the number of troops and police in Kosovo to the levels of last February, when Milosevic began his crackdown on the separatist Kosovo Liberation Army. Hundreds have died in the fighting and 300,000 ethnic Albanians have been forced from their homes.

About 90 percent of Kosovo’s 2 million residents are ethnic Albanian, and most favor independence. Kosovo is a province in Serbia, the main republic in Yugoslavia.

In Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright told reporters that NATO would move quickly to use force against Yugoslavia if Milosevic sends troops and special police back to Kosovo.

Albright said the NATO allies were preparing to organize a rapid-reaction force based in the neighboring former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia that could intervene quickly.

International officials hope the continued pressure will encourage many refugees to return to the homes they were forced to flee when fighting between rebels and Serb security forces escalated earlier this year.

Hugh Parmer of the U.S. Agency for International Development visited a number of Kosovo villages and towns.

``The biggest difference is the hope I saw in the peoples’ eyes now compared to the fear I saw seven weeks ago,″ he said. ``It is still a difficult situation, but if these people go home we will have a manageable humanitarian situation. There should be no deaths in the winter.″

Many of the displaced people are camping in the woods and hills, fearful that Serb police will shoot at them if they tried to go back.

In the village of Ostrozub, southwest of Pristina, Avdullah Krasniqi loaded up his farm wagon with his wife, kids and household goods and headed home Tuesday.

The ethnic Albanian made his decision less out of confidence that NATO had forced an end to the crisis than the fact that it was getting colder by the day in his mountain refuge.

``We spent three months in the mountains,″ Krasniqi said as family members in a wagon sat on a huge pile of carpets, kitchen utensils and other household goods, all pulled by the family tractor. ``It’s very cold.″

The Krasniqis wanted very badly to go home, but they are still wary.

``We don’t have any faith in Milosevic,″ he said, licking his thick dark mustache, and noting that his next-door neighbor was shot and killed on his doorstep.

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