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NATO strikes stepped up; troops promised

The Associated Press

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia – NATO blasted at Serb targets today that reportedly included an air force building, army barracks and the capital’s airport, while the allies planned an airlift of ethnic Albanian refugees flooding out of Kosovo province.

Wednesday, July 14, 1999

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia – NATO blasted at Serb targets today that reportedly included an air force building, army barracks and the capital’s airport, while the allies planned an airlift of ethnic Albanian refugees flooding out of Kosovo province.

Amid a heavy new wave of airstrikes late Sunday and early today across Serbia, the United States signaled an escalation of firepower to halt Serb attacks on Kosovo’s Albanian majority.

Washington agreed to send 24 Apache helicopter gunships, 2,000 troops and a missile launching system to Albania to give NATO the ability to directly attack Serb troops and tanks in Kosovo, a province of Serbia, Yugoslavia’s dominant republic.

NATO leaders meeting today must approve use of the weapons.

Deploying Apaches and support troops in Albania would mark a substantial escalation of the NATO campaign. The low-flying helicopters would operate in hostile territory, with accompanying troops deployed close to the conflict.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair renewed his pledge that Britain would not send troops in to fight a ground war. ”There is no question of NATO ground forces being sent in unless it is to police an agreed political settlement,” Blair wrote in today’s edition of The Sun, Britain’s largest selling daily tabloid.

In Belgrade, air raid sirens sounded Sunday night to signal the onset of the 12th night of airstrikes, which lasted into the pre-dawn hours today, striking targets across Serbia, including Belgrade and Kosovo’s provincial capital, Pristina.

The independent Beta news agency reported a powerful explosion in the Belgrade area around midnight. More than 20 explosions during a half-hour span were heard around Pristina, where NATO planes later targeted an oil depot, it said.

Hours later, NATO planes hit two suburbs of the capital – Rakovica to the south and Surcin to the northwest – the Belgrade crisis center said.

A stone quarry was targeted in a populated area of Rakovica, while a missile struck near Belgrade’s airport near Surcin, causing minor damage to the main terminal, the official Tanjug news agency reported.

Three powerful explosions early today also rocked Zemun, a northwestern district of the capital. Studio B radio said one of the targets was an air force command building.

In Obrenovac outside of Belgrade, Tanjug said a missile was downed and several explosions were heard early today. Explosions were also reported in the eastern Kosovo town Gnjilane.

One missile hit a bridge on the Ibar river, and a TV relay tower was also targeted, state media said. Both ends of a railway tunnel in the Ibar river valley were also targeted, effectively cutting the line.

Four explosions were heard today in the greater Nis area, 125 miles south of Belgrade, Beta reported, three of which hit the command building of the Yugoslav Third Army. Another of the targets was later identified as a military barracks in the center of the city, Politika TV reported.Sunday.