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War escalates as Serbs dig in

NATO strikes have intensified Serb resolve and deepened Kosovo chaos.

While Western diplomats had hoped NATO airstrikes against Yugoslavia would force a quick surrender, the operation has had the opposite effect so far.

Kosovo has exploded in violence, and the Yugoslav Army has dug in for protracted battle - with the crash of a US stealth fighter a boost to its morale. Serbs, furthermore, have rallied behind their leader, Slobodan Milosevic, and violence has seeped into other countries.

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Although bombs have thundered for five days, shaking buildings and lighting up the night sky, there have been no signs that Mr. Milosevic will relent.

"This is a worst-case scenario," says a Western diplomat who had fled the country. "But it's already started, and we can't stop now."

NATO has announced it will pick up the attacks, particularly against Serbian and Yugoslav forces in Kosovo, which are reportedly shelling villages, massacring civilians, and forcing thousands of ethnic Albanians out of the region.

Already violence has seeped into Macedonia, where there was a protest at the US Embassy, and Albania, where there have been cross-border shellings. Two Yugoslav MIG-29 fighter jets, furthermore, were shot down by NATO planes Friday after violating Bosnian airspace.

Ethnic Albanians reached by telephone in Pristina, the capital of Kosovo, and in the western city of Pec gave harrowing accounts of a violent free-for-all. People told of bombs falling and Serbs rampaging through the streets, killing, looting, burning and driving ethnic Albanians from their homes. With Western reporters and humanitarian aid workers out of the region, however, many accounts were impossible to verify.

One ethnic Albanian said Kosovo was "like hell" and described Serbs driving through her neighborhood throwing bombs at Albanian-owned houses. "I'm leaving today," she said just before the phone line was cut off.

Forced out

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Another person, in Pec, said Serbian police and armed civilians were forcing ethnic Albanians onto trucks and buses headed for Montenegro, which along with Serbia makes up Yugoslavia. "We're getting our things ready," the witness said. "We'll take everything and leave because if we don't we'll get killed."

The Red Cross from Rozaje, in Montenegro, confirmed that 1,000 Kosovars had arrived in Montenegro and a thousand more were waiting at the border. Tens of thousands of refugees were also pouring over the borders into Macedonia and Albania.

In a house just on the outskirts of the city, ethnic Albanian university students hid from the police and ran to the window when a Yugoslav military installation went up in flames. "Let them burn," said Genc, one of the students, according to sources.

KosovaPress, the information agency of the rebel Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), said ethnic Albanians were being massacred and used as human shields to deter NATO bombers.

Western leaders have expressed outrage at intelligence reports of atrocities in Kosovo, and accused the Serbs of "ethnic cleansing." Serbs, in turn, have accused the KLA of provoking the violence.

"Serb troops have continued attacks on unarmed men, women and children - that is all the more reason for us to stay the course," President Clinton said this weekend. "We must and we will continue until Serbia's leader, Slobodan Milosevic, accepts peace or we have seriously damaged his capacity to make war."

NATO started bombing Yugoslavia after Serbs refused to sign a peace deal on Kosovo, where ethnic Albanians outnumber Serbs 9 to 1. As the strikes entered the fifth day, the Yugoslav strategy was becoming apparent: Preserve the army, get ready for a prolonged war, and hope international opposition to the airstrikes solidifies.

"We're preparing for a longer war, maybe on the ground," says Miroslav Lazanski, a well-connected military analyst in Belgrade. "We will be strong and defend ourselves."

Boost to the Yugoslav Army

The crash Saturday night of a US F-117A stealth fighter is sure to build confidence among the Yugoslav Army. At their first press conference on Saturday since the bombing started, Yugoslav Army officials accused NATO of targeting civilians and unleashing internationally banned "cluster bombs." Western reporters have virtually no access to the sites where the bombs landed.

Many people in Belgrade seemed to support the Yugoslav Army and Milosevic, whom US officials blame for inflaming the Kosovo conflict. "Our guys are very wise because they're not confronting the enemy but hiding and waiting for the ground troops to come," said a cabdriver as he sped around town in an old Mercedes. "We can't beat them in the air, we know that. But when they come to the ground, we will tear them apart with our hands."

Meanwhile, yesterday tens of thousands of demonstrators gathered in the Belgrade Square of the Republic to listen to rock 'n' roll musicians and rally for NATO to stop its air campaign.

Children wore paper signs on their chests with bull's-eyes and the word "target." One American flag was covered with a large, black swastika; others were burned.

"The bombing is driving us crazy, making us spend so much time in the shelters," says Marina Djuric, a student. "It's good that we have a chance to gather here."

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