U.S. jets down MiGs on 3rd day of strikes; Yugoslav foray over bosnia may be bid to widen conflict; 'A serious challenge'; NATO bombers bring airstrikes to heart of Serbian capital; WAR IN KOSOVO

THE BALTIMORE SUN

WASHINGTON -- American warplanes shot down two Yugoslav MiG-29 fighters yesterday over Bosnia as the MiGs streaked toward some of the 30,000 NATO peacekeeping troops, including about 7,000 Americans, who are stationed there.

The offensive into Bosnia was a sign that, far from yielding in the face of NATO airstrikes, a defiant President Slobodan Milosevic may be seeking to spread the war to other Balkan nations by targeting NATO troops outside Yugoslavia.

"It's certainly a serious event, certainly a serious challenge," said Kenneth Bacon, a Pentagon spokesman.

U.S. and allied forces, meanwhile, unleashed another wave of bombs and missiles against Yugoslavia yesterday. For the first time in the three-day campaign, allied aircraft fired precision-guided bombs in daylight. A single cruise missile was launched at sea, finding its target at 9: 23 a.m. EST, Bacon said, though the fiercest bombardments again came at nightfall.

Last night, a dozen explosions rocked the Yugoslavian capital of Belgrade, triggering air raid sirens and sending panicked residents rushing to safety. American B-52 bombers and F-117 stealth fighter/bombers again took part in the attack.

An airborne AWACS plane detected the MiGs as they crossed five miles into the NATO no-fly zone over Bosnia. Two American F-15Cs were dispatched to challenge the Yugoslav pilots.

Initial reports indicated that both downed pilots were picked up by NATO troops. But Pentagon and NATO officials later backed off that pronouncement, saying they had no idea where the pilots were or whether they had survived. At least one of the planes crashed in the section of Bosnia patrolled by Russian peacekeepers.

The Clinton administration also sought to reach out to the Serbian people. Voice of American and Radio Free Europe broadcast an appeal from President Clinton, explaining NATO's rationale for the strikes and imploring the Serbs to rally for a peaceful end to the devastation in Kosovo, and perhaps to rebel against their government.

Battle of the airwaves

Milosevic "could have kept Kosovo and Serbia and given you peace," Clinton said. "But instead, he has jeopardized Kosovo's future and brought you more war. Right now, he's forcing your sons to keep fighting a senseless conflict that you did not ask for and that he could have prevented."

A second message to the Serbs was taped by Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright in Serbo-Croatian and also broadcast yesterday.

The Yugoslav government mounted its own propaganda offensive, charging that NATO bombing had destroyed four schools on the outskirts of Belgrade, wrecked hospitals, roads and even a refugee center, and killed scores of civilians.

"The historic shame and responsibility lies today on the American administration," Foreign Minister Zivadin Jovanovic told CNN. "Keep off Yugoslavia. This is the way to peace."

Resistance to strikes

Meanwhile, pockets of resistance to NATO's military campaign, even among some friendly nations, continued as protesters marched in front of U.S. embassies in Macedonia and Greece, a NATO ally. Russia expelled NATO's representatives from Moscow, though Russia's envoys to the United Nations failed to muster enough votes to pass a Security Council resolution demanding an end to the bombing.

Petrit Bushati, the Albanian ambassador to the United States, said last night that all military and police forces in his country had been mobilized into service, fearing cross-border raids from Serbian forces.

Bushati said Serbian shells hit the Albanian village of Tropoj Thursday, destroying a farmer's house and a post office. There were no casualties.

NATO remains united

NATO officials stressed that they remain united in their drive to either force a political settlement in Kosovo or continue military attacks indefinitely.

Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, the leading Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee and someone with close ties to the White House, predicted that the bombing would go on for three weeks.

"We have known from the very beginning that President Milosevic would be testing our resolve, waiting to see if we had the stamina and the staying power to see this through before he would realize that he has no alternative but to comply with the demands of the international community," said Jamie Shea, a NATO spokesman. "And therefore, we are determined to see this mission through, and yes, we do have the stamina."

Tally of targets

NATO military officials began releasing more details about targets and success rates yesterday, along with film footage of pinpoint bomb strikes that Americans grew used to witnessing during the Persian Gulf war.

NATO allies have yet to suffer a casualty or lose a warplane and have shot down at least five of Yugoslavia's 14 MiGs, Milosevic's most sophisticated jets. More than 50 targets had been hit after the second day of air strikes, conducted in about 400 air sorties.

Among those targets were an anti-aircraft missile battery, an air-defense support facility, a heliport and vehicle storage depot, an early-warning air-defense site, an aviation repair facility, a fuel supply depot and an ammunition dump.

Kosovo targets hit

Bacon said NATO air strikes also hit a military command post just outside Kosovo that housed a Serbian army unit that has coordinated the bloody crackdown on ethnic Albanians in Kosovo. He also said that NATO forces had struck several special police headquarters and some military targets in Kosovo to try to slow the mounting civilian carnage in the rebellious province.

But targets remained primarily Yugoslav air defense systems, an increasingly frustrating goal considering that Yugoslav forces have refused to deploy those systems. If the air-defense systems are not used, and mobile missile batteries are continually moved, fighter pilots cannot find them.

Only one Serbian surface-to-air missile has been launched, and it missed.

Serb air defenses quiet

British Air Commodore David Wilby said the quiet skies may indicate that NATO forces have successfully taken out the command-and-control centers that integrate the Yugoslav air-defense system and allow them to communicate NATO fighter positions.

But, he allowed, "it could also be a husbanding of [Serbian] resources," which is the view of U.S. military intelligence, according to Pentagon sources.

"We can't tell honestly whether this is a tactic or not," said Gen. Wesley K. Clark, NATO's supreme allied commander.

"But if it's a tactic, it's not a very good one, because if not used, such systems are ultimately irrelevant."

So far, however, those systems have been relevant because they have kept at bay NATO's slower, low-flying attack planes that would be used to target Serbian troops, tanks and artillery. Those troops, meantime, are cutting a deadly swath through Kosovo.

Pub Date: 3/27/99

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