War In The Balkans: Allied Campaign - Nato faces a division in ranks

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The Independent Online
RECRIMINATIONS AND accusations are growing within senior Nato ranks over the alliance's policy and its apparent failure to inflict significant damage on the Serbian war machine or halt the tide of ethnic cleansing in Kosovo.

At briefings yesterday, allied military chiefs publicly insisted that the campaign of air strikes will continue. Video footage was shown of bridges, barracks and other targets being hit by bombs and missiles. But at the same time they were forced to admit that bad weather had once again prevented most of the planned attacks from taking place.

Criticism of the allied efforts was more vocal in Brussels and Washington than in London. There were allegations that intelligence assessments that air strikes alone would not stop a Serb offensive against Kosovars were ignored.

Adding to the controversy, a Kosovo Liberation Army commander, Shkem Dragobia, yesterday accused Nato of betrayal, saying the Kosovarshad been asked not to mobilise and arm themselves, on the understanding that Western powers would protect them.

This they had failed to do, said Mr Dragobia, and if Nato continued to refuse to commit ground forces, the KLA should be provided with armour and heavy artillery.

There was also sceptical questioning of Nato tactics at a briefing in Brussels, where it was pointed out that life in Belgrade appeared to continue as normal. A spokesman, Jamie Shea, said the alliance would not be using President Slobodan Milosevic's methods and was determined to avoid collateral damage and the risk of hitting civilians.

A Nato spokesman, Air Commodore David Wilby, said the allies were in for a long haul. "This will not be a short campaign," he added.

However, he stressed that the attacks were effective and Serbian forces were suffering from serious fuel shortages caused by the bombing. The dwindling stocks were being further depleted by their "cat and mouse" tactic of regularly moving armour around to avoid being hit. Shortage of fuel had immobilised an entire Yugoslav army battle group near the town of Djakovica in southern Kosovo.

Fuel and bread shortages were also hitting ordinary Yugoslavs outside Kosovo, and there was a military call-up of men aged between 16 and 60, some of whose passports were being confiscated to prevent them leaving the country, Nato claimed.

Overnight, Nato aircraft had encountered light missile activity and the anti-aircraft radar threat had lessened.

Air Commodore Wilby said cloudy weather in and around Kosovo had again hampered Nato air operations, but a "full spectrum" of targets had been attacked. US B-1 bombers had gone into action for the first time, "increasing the tempo and effectiveness of our campaign", he said.

Attacks had focused on lines of communication such as bridges and on the Yugoslav forces' staging areas and headquarters facilities.

The B-1 is part of a steady build up of the Nato arsenal. Eight RAF Tornados are now on stand-by at their base in Germany and an extra four Harriers sent to Italy are also fully operational.

The submarine HMS Splendid, which is believed to be in the Adriatic, is expected to be joined by a number of other naval vessels.

More hi-tech weapons were delivered yesterday to RAF pilots waiting in Italy for a break in the weather to resume air strikes So far the Harriers stationed at the Gioia del Colle base have carried out only two successful raids where the targets were hit.

Nato yesterday named six Yugoslav officers commanding army units in Kosovo and called on them to refuse orders to carry out atrocities. Failure to do so, it was stressed, could lead to them facing war crimes charges.

Nato has also instructed the commanders of its 12,000-strong force in Macedonia to provide transport and other logistical support to deal with the massive influx of refugees from Kosovo.