News Friday, MARCH 26th, 1999
Welcome to Radio Prague. Those were the headlines and now the news in full, read by Libor Kubik.
As NATO warplanes blasted Yugoslavia to halt its offensive in Kosovo for the second night running, a former Czechoslovak foreign minister accused Serb forces of major abuses but also found fault with their ethnic Albanian foes.
United Nations Special Rapporteur Jiri Dienstbier charged late on Thursday that Serbs had carried out arbitrary detentions, torture and killings in custody.
But Dienstbier also denounced reported abductions and arbitrary arrests by ethnic Albanian guerillas of the Kosovo Liberation Army in the Serbian province.
Czech President Vaclav Havel said on Thursday that Slobodan Milosevic could still avert the deepening of the crisis in Kosovo if he accepts the Ramboulliet peace accords. Havel described the NATO strikes as an extreme but vitally necessary way how to prevent further bloodshed and suffering in the province.
Havel expressed hope that Milosevic, facing a resolute opposition of the democratic world, will eventually end a policy which is essentially anti-Serbian by its consequences.
According to President Havel, the NATO action is in response to a decade of the Milosevic rule.
The Czech Foreign Ministry has said it is deeply concerned over Slobodan Milosevic's intransigence and accused the Serbian president of forcing NATO into armed operations against his country.
The ministry stressed that the air strikes followed after all diplomatic efforts to find a political solution to the Kosovo problem had failed.
It said in a statement that NATO's action was not directed against the people of Serbia and Montenegro.
Petr Necas, chairman of the parliamentary defence and security committee, says he believes that the NATO air strikes against Yugoslav targets could pressure Belgrade and Kosovo Albanians into signing a ceasefire treaty.
He says NATO has been forced by circumstances to attack Milosevic, whom he blames for violating all agreements he signed last autumn.
Unconfirmed reports speak about 70 people killed in the NATO raids, including 50 civilians and the number of people wounded in the raids unofficially stood at 220 on Thursday.
The embassies of several Western states in Prague were under police protection on Thursday in the wake of the NATO air strikes against Yugoslavia.
The Army of the Czech Republic has stepped up security in all its installations, and members of the Czech SFOR unit serving in Bosnia have been instructed to leave their barracks only in groups of more than two servicemen.
The Czech BIS secret service has indicated that although the country is not facing an immediate security threats, tough security measures are in force.
BIS spokesman Jan Subert said the Czech Republic must brace itself for an influx of refugees from Kosovo.
Czech Defence Minister Vladimir Vetchy has described relations between his country and Yugoslavia as being traditionally more close than those between Belgrade and some other NATO states.
He said on Thursday that the Czech Republic should try to maintain the good rapport with Yugoslavia. He said that once the conflict is over his country could play the role of mediator and peacemaker.
Minister Vetchy was referring to the times after the Soviet- led invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, when many Czechs and Slovaks used Yugoslavia as a transit point on their journey into emigration, and to freedom in the West.
An estimated 100 Serbs, some draped in Yugoslav flags, have staged a protest outside the U.S. and German embassies in Prague.
About 1,000 people, some of them non-Serbs, have signed a petition condemning NATO raids against Milosevic.
The unreformed Czech Communist Party has expressed its support for Belgrade in the current showdown.
Party leader Miroslav Grebenicek has visited the Yugoslav embassy in a show of solidarity with the Milosevic regime. He said the NATO strikes were a brutal aggression.
Communist leaders visited also the Russian embassy in Prague. They said they were trying to obtain more information about the bombing than could be obtained from the Czech authorities. The Communists indicated they were also planning to visit the embassies of Ukraine and France.
And a Serb and Montenegro society chairman has compared the NATO action to the atrocities committed by the Nazis in the late 1930s.
The association's chairman Rajko Dolecek told the CTK news agency that a sovereign state, which threatens nobody, had been attacked without the approval of the UN Security Council.
Meanwhile, NATO has hailed its air strikes against Yugoslavia as a success and vowed to destroy the armed forces of President Milosevic unless he agrees peace terms in Kosovo.
I am Libor Kubik and that's the end of the news.