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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release March 25, 1999
                          TO THE SERBIAN PEOPLE 
                           The Roosevelt Room

THE PRESIDENT: As you know, the United States and its NATO allies have begun a military campaign to reduce President Milosevic's ability to make war on the people of Kosovo. I want to speak candidly to all Serbian people, to explain our reasons for this action and how there could be a quick resolution of the crisis.

First, I cannot emphasize too strongly that the United States and our European allies have no quarrel with the Serbian people. We respect your proud history and culture. We joined together on many occasions, including our victory over Naziism in World War II. Our own history has been honored by the contributions of Serb families who came to America to start a new life.

But our common future has been put in jeopardy by a war that threatens the peace of Europe and the lives of thousands of innocent people in Kosovo. After exhausting every other option, all 19 members of NATO -- from France to Poland, from Italy to Greece, from across Europe to Canada and the United States in North America -- all of us agree that only swift action can save peace in the Balkans.

Let us turn from Serbia's history to the facts of the last 10 years. There has been too much propaganda and too little plain truth. President Milosevic has spoken often of Serbia's standing in the world; but by his every action he has diminished your country's standing, exposed you to violence and instability, and isolated you from the rest of Europe. He waged senseless wars in Bosnia and Croatia, which only ended after enormous bloodshed on all sides. And he lost a cruel campaign against the Albanian people of Kosovo. It was not simply a war against armed Kosovar forces, but also a campaign of violence in which tanks and artillery were unleashed against unarmed civilians.

Now, one out of eight people in Kosovo have been driven from their homes, entire villages have been burned and cleared of their people. Thousands of Serbs also have suffered and been forced from their homes. As a result, the bitterness in Kosovo is deeper than ever and the prospect that Kosovars and Serbs will be able to live together in the same country has been harmed. No one has benefitted from all this, certainly not Serbia.

We understand the region has more than its share of painful history, and we know that all peoples of the former Yugoslavia have their legitimate grievances. The NATO allies support the desire of the Serbian people to maintain Kosovo as part of your country. With our Russian partners, we insisted on that in the peace talks in France. The result was a fair and balanced agreement that would guarantee the rights of all people in Kosovo -- ethnic Serbs and Albanians alike, within Serbia.

The Kosovar leaders accepted that. They agreed to demilitarize their forces and to end the paramilitary attacks on Serbs that also have contributed to the crisis. At the invitation of Serbs and Kosovars, NATO troops, under the agreement, would be deployed in Kosovo as keepers of the peace -- not as some occupying force.

Now, I know the Serb government and many Serbian people may not see NATO that way. And it is true that it was the Kosovar Albanians who insisted on NATO peacekeeping forces -- but largely because of President Milosevic's violations of his own commitments regarding the use of police and military units.

Nevertheless, I want you to understand that NATO only agreed to be peacekeepers on the understanding that its troops would ensure that both sides kept their commitments and that terrorism on both sides would be brought to an end. They only agreed to serve with the understanding that they would protect Serbs as well as ethnic Albanians, and that they would leave when peace took hold.

Now, only President Milosevic rejected this agreement. He could have kept Kosovo and Serbia and given you peace. But, instead, he has jeopardized Kosovo's future and brought you more war. Right now he's forcing your sons to keep fighting a senseless conflict that you did not ask for and that he could have prevented. Every time he has summoned Serbia's history as a justification for such action he has imperiled your future. Hopefully, he will realize that his present course is unsustainable; ultimately, it is self-destructive.

The sooner we find a peaceful resolution of this dispute, preserving Kosovo within Serbia while guaranteeing the rights of its people under your law, the sooner Serbia can join the rest of Europe and build a nation that gives all its citizens a voice and a chance at prosperity.

The NATO nations have tried to avert this conflict through every means we knew to be available. Each of us has ties to Serbia. Each respects the dignity and the courage of the Serb people. In the end we decided that the dangers of acting are outweighed by the dangers of allowing this conflict to continue, to worsen, to claim the lives of more innocent civilians -- including children -- to result in tens of thousands of more homeless refugees.

Now all of us -- Americans, Europeans, Serbs, Kosovars -- must join together to stop driving wedges between people simply because they belong to different ethnic groups and to start accepting that our differences are less important than our common humanity and our common aspirations.

I call on all Serbs and all people of good will to join with us in seeking an end to this needless and avoidable conflict. Instead, let us work together to restore serbia to its rightful place as a great nation of Europe; included, not isolated, by the world community; respected by all nations for having the strength to build peace.