March 24, 1999 – Despite looming NATO airstrikes, Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic on Wednesday remained defiant and called on his people to defend the country „by all means.“ Milosevic delivered the appeal in a nationally televised address. Milosevic urged Yugoslav citizens to remain calm, despite the threat of NATO air attacks
„What is at stake here is the freedom of the entire country,“ Milosevic said of the threat of military action prompted by the conflict between Serbs and ethnic Albanian separatists in the Serbian province of Kosovo.
And the leader repeated his refusal to let international troops be deployed in Yugoslavia — a demand Western nations see as essential to make any Kosovo peace agreement stick.
„We shall defend the country if it is attacked,“ Milosevic added in the brief address to the nation.
„We sincerely hope the long-term problems in Kosovo can be solved by peaceful and political means,“ he said. „We insist on a key issue…which is equality of all national communities (in Kosovo).“
Air raid sirens tested in Pristina
Meanwhile in Kosovo’s provincial capital of Pristina, people ran for cover as air raid sirens wailed. Zoran Andjelkovic, the Serb administrator of Kosovo, said authorities had only been checking the sirens.
A frantic mood engulfed the city as ethnic Albanians and Serbs — who had been shopping for supplies a few hours earlier — headed home or packed cars to speed to the relative security of other parts of Serbia or neighboring Macedonia.
„This waiting for strikes is killing me,“ said Jasmina Perunovic, a 26-year-old medical student in the Serbian and Yugoslav capital. „If they want to bomb us, they should do it now so we end this painful wait.“
NATO was given the green light Tuesday night to launch a massive bombing campaign against Serbian targets in the Yugoslav federation, after months of diplomacy failed to convince Milosevic to agree to an international peace proposal to end his crackdown on separatist ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.
‚We have to stop Milosevic‘
„We have to stop leaders who are not prepared to look to the future, who continue to look to the past, who are not prepared to look to the 21st century and continue to do terrible things to their people,“ NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana said Wednesday, referring to Milosevic.
The NATO chief said the next step would be to try to damage the forces of the Yugoslav army and Serbian police so they can not continue their crackdown on Kosovo Liberation Army guerrillas and their alleged civilian supporters.
It is essential, Solana said, to get Milosevic back to the negotiating table and to agree to an accord on Kosovo.
„We have tried to do everything we could to solve this peacefully,“ U.S. President Bill Clinton said Tuesday.
‚We will defend ourselves‘
Nebojsa Vujovic, the Yugoslav chargé d’affaires in Washington, told CNN that, in case of a NATO attack, the Yugoslav army would defend the country.
He added that Belgrade would also appeal to the United Nations and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which is Europe’s main security body.
After Belgrade declared a state of emergency — its first since World War II — Serb forces were ordered to disperse to hide from bombings and try to keep the country’s grip on Kosovo, where government troops were still battling the ethnic Albanian separatists.
Media published instructions from the Belgrade City Council warning citizens to gather food and necessities to take to bomb shelters in the event of an air raid, as well as how to signal rescue workers from under the rubble of a devastated building.
„Be calm, do not panic, but be decisive,“ the instructions said.
International media operations shut down
The Yugoslav government on Wednesday also moved against the international media and its ability to transmit from Belgrade.
CNN reporters said plainclothes policemen came to a transmission site and told reporters to face the wall while officials removed pieces of equipment essential for transmitting television signals.
The officials issued no official warning, but simply removed the key pieces of equipment. The move also blocked television transmission by the European Broadcasting Union.
Belgrade officials pull the plug on independent radio station B-92
Earlier, Serb authorities closed Belgrade’s independent radio station, B-92, saying it had exceeded its authorized transmitting power. The station’s editor was arrested.
Regional countries on alert
Neighboring nations also were put on alert.
Albania and Bulgaria received assurances of NATO support in a letter from Solana.
And Macedonia worried about the possible consequences to its own fragile stability, especially with some 12,000 NATO troops in its territory preparing for a possible mission in Kosovo.
Montenegro, Serbia’s junior partner in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, refused to join in the declaration of a state of emergency.
Montenegrin authorities, who have criticized Milosevic’s tactics in Kosovo, announced last month that they would be neutral in any conflict with NATO.