WASHINGTON (AP) — Defense Secretary William Cohen says signs of unrest are showing up in Yugoslavia against President Slobodan Milosevic from civilians and soldiers disenchanted with policies that brought NATO bombs down on them.
And Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, writing Sunday in The Washington Post with British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, conceded the allied air campaign to drive Milosevic's forces out of Kosovo has been responsible for "perhaps hundreds of innocent casualties." But they said such incidents are impossible to avoid in such a conflict.
On another front, Pentagon officials said two Yugoslav soldiers held as prisoners of war by the U.S. military in Germany will be released shortly, perhaps as early as today. "They are going to be released," said one official, speaking on condition of anonymity. "We're just working out the details now."
Yugoslav authorities two weeks ago turned over three U.S. Army soldiers captured March 31 along the Kosovo-Macedonia border to a religious delegation led by the Rev. Jesse Jackson. There was no indication of any direct linkage between the two releases, however.
Interviewed Sunday on CBS' "Face the Nation," Cohen said NATO leaders "have seen defections coming out of (Milosevic's) military in the south. We've seen reluctance on the part of reserves to be called up to support the military."
"We've seen evidence of not only Milosevic's financial elite moving their families out of Serbia into neighboring countries, (but) we've seen that happening as well among the military. So we are seeing signs now that they are calling into question the wisdom of what Milosevic has done to them."
The decline of Milosevic's security forces, coupled with the regrouping and rearming of the rebel Kosovo Liberation Army, could lead to disaster to Milosevic once he agrees to NATO's terms and the Atlantic alliance ends the campaign, Cohen suggested.
The Yugoslav leader will send a systematically diminished military to face a KLA "more heavily armed, more well-trained, and they will prove his quagmire, his Vietnam," he added.
In their guest column in the Post, Albright and Cook also called attention to the serious damage being done to Milosevic's military by the 24-hour-a-day allied bombing.
"Those forces are now spending less and less time inflicting violence on others and more and more looking after their own survival," they wrote. Events have shown, however, that "perfection is unattainable."
"There have been perhaps hundreds of innocent casualties as a result of NATO action," the U.S. and British officials acknowledged. "We deeply regret that. … But in a conflict as intense as this, it is impossible to eliminate such casualties."
Cohen said NATO has not determined the truth of a report by the KLA that some of the approximately 80 civilians reported killed last week in a NATO raid on a purported police command post had been brought to the site by the Serb military to keep the allies from attacking it.
"That's a very distinct possibility," the defense secretary said. "I think there's no level to which Milosevic and his troops won't sink in terms of using refugees as human shields."
"For the Serbs to lament publicly about the deaths of these refugees is almost tantamount to (Nazi Holocaust figure) Adolf Eichmann complaining about allied forces bombing the crematoriums," he said. "These are crocodile tears coming out of mass killers."
Cohen, Albright and Cook and Gen. Hugh Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, reiterated NATO's demands for ending the bombing: Milosevic must withdraw his forces from Kosovo, allow refugees to return under the protection of an international force and agree to autonomy for the Serbian province.
They said the air war was progressing well; none mentioned ground forces except in a postwar peacekeeping force.
Newsweek magazine, meanwhile, reported that the Joint Chiefs have written to Cohen that ground troops must be committed to "guarantee fulfillment of the administration's political objectives."
Time is running out for a decision, because 600,000 ethnic Albanian refugees must be helped to return home to Kosovo before winter snow sets in, Newsweek said.
To do that, it reported, "a ground war would have to commence by the beginning of August, and the forces required must start assembling by the beginning of June."