NATO orders military strikes against Yugoslavia – March 23, 1999

March 23, 1999 – NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana has ordered military strikes against Yugoslavia following the failure of a last-minute mission to persuade Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to agree to a U.S.-drafted peace plan. Solana: All efforts to achieve a negotiated political solution have failed.


„All efforts to achieve a negotiated political solution to the Kosovo crisis have failed and no alternative is open but to take military action,“ Solana said from NATO headquarters in Brussels on Tuesday. Solana said he had directed NATO’s supreme commander, U.S. Gen. Wesley Clark, to „initiate operations“ against Yugoslavia. He did not specify when military action would begin or what sites would be targeted.

In Belgrade, Yugoslavia’s government declared a state of an „imminent threat of war“ by NATO forces. The declaration calls for mobilization of troops and puts the army on a high state of alert.

With hundreds of NATO planes and half a dozen warships poised to launch military strikes against Yugoslavia, the United States and several European nations closed their embassies in Belgrade Tuesday.

U.S. defense officials said planned airstrikes on Serb military targets would be swift, severe and painful.

„The train has pretty much left the station“ toward air and cruise missile attacks, Defense Department spokesman Ken Bacon told reporters. „We believe this will be painful for the Serbs. We hope that relatively quickly … the Serbs will realize they have made a mistake.“

After two rounds of intense meetings with Milosevic, U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke said the Yugoslav president had not given him any peace commitment for Kosovo.

The seemingly imminent use of force led Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov to break off his trip to Washington mid-flight over the Atlantic after a telephone briefing by U.S. Vice President Al Gore.

A statement from Gore, who was to have met with Primakov on Tuesday, said in part: „After discussing the worsening situation in Kosovo, Prime Minister Primakov decided to return to Russia and we agreed with would postone this week’s meeting of the U.S.-Russian Joint Commission.“

Holbrooke, speaking in an interview with CNN shortly before he was to leave Belgrade, said the Kosovo situation was now „the bleakest since we began this (peace effort)“ almost four years ago.“

He said that Milosevic rejected international demands for an immediate cease-fire in Kosovo and a NATO-led peace force.

Asked if Milosevic understands the consequences that may result from his actions, Holbrooke said, „Yes.“ Holbrooke said his delegation stayed over an extra day to make sure Milosevic understood what the consequences might be.

Milosevic „has chosen a path he fully understands by rejecting our reasonable, rational requests and suggestions,“ he said.

Earlier Tuesday, White House press secretary Joe Lockhart said there would be „swift and substantial NATO action“ should the Yugoslav government continue to reject a peace proposal for Kosovo.

The United States said Holbrooke’s last-ditch mission was a final attempt to make Serbia, the dominant province in Yugoslavia, halt an offensive against ethnic Albanians in Kosovo and accept the international peace plan, which would give ethnic Albanians significant local autonomy but not full independence.

Yugoslavia would win ‚moral victory‘

The Serbian parliament, meeting in a special session on Tuesday, solidly rejected NATO demands to put peace troops in Kosovo to help implement an accord.

The charge d’affaires of the Yugoslav Embassy in Washington, Nebojsa Vujovic, speaking in an interview with CNN, said that his country would defend itself with all means possible in the event of a NATO attack.

He admitted that Yugoslavia’s armed forces were ultimately no match for NATO but said Belgrade would win a „moral victory“ since a sovereign and independent nation would be bombed by outside forces.

Italy, France and Britain all reaffirmed their readiness to take part in NATO action to prevent a „humanitarian catastrophe“ in Kosovo, where more than 2,000 people have been killed and hundreds of thousands made homeless in the past year.

Fighting rages in Kosovo

Despite intense international diplomacy, fighting went on in central Kosovo on Tuesday.

Serbian security forces and separatist ethnic Albanian rebels clashed for a fourth straight day while relief workers were packing up to leave, cutting aid efforts to a minimum.

The Serb Media Center said ethnic Albanians fired on a police patrol on the road from Srbica to Glogovac, in the central Drenica region, with mortars and automatic weapons.

There also was fighting taking place near Vucitrn in the north, the Albanian-run Kosovo Information Center said.

Macedonia’s two border crossings with neighboring Kosovo were reportedly closed to Yugoslav citizens on Tuesday, leaving hundreds of ethnic Albanian refugees stranded and unable to enter the country.

Macedonian state radio confirmed the border had been closed to anyone holding a Yugoslav passport, including Kosovo Albanians, many of whom some said they were fleeing possible NATO bombing.