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Monday, June 15, 1998 Published at 17:46 GMT 18:46 UK

World: Europe

Nato hails air manoeuvres a success

British Jaguars form part of the multinational force

Nato's supreme commander of allied forces in Europe says that Monday's air exercises over Macedonia and Albania passed off without incident.

In a video conference from Naples, General Wesley Clark said that the success of the exercises demonstrated Nato's "capability to rapidly project power if required".

Meanwhile, European Union leaders, meeting in Cardiff on Monday, agreed to impose a ban on all flights by the Yugoslav national airline, JAT, to European Union capitals.

They warned Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to comply with international demands to stop the bloodshed in Kosovo or face an escalation in the measures being taken against him.

"Russia in the dark"

Russia's defence minister said earlier that Nato's air manoeuvres over the Balkans went ahead without his knowledge.

The BBC's Paul Welsh: "This time the international community means business"
Russia's Interfax news agency said the minister, Igor Sergeyev, described the exercises as "unexpected".

But a Nato spokesman said Russia had been kept fully informed.

The mission was portrayed as a show of strength to Yugoslavia over the crisis in the Serb province of Kosovo. More than 80 Nato warplanes took off at dawn on Monday to fly over Kosovo's borders with Macedonia and Albania.

The aim of Operation Determined Falcon - Nato's biggest ever exercise over the Balkans - is to deter Mr Milosevic from further violence against the ethnic Albanians in the province.

Russia is uneasy about Nato's increased presence in the Balkans, and has already cautioned that the air manoeuvres should not obstruct diplomatic efforts to resolve the situation in Kosovo, particularly as Mr Milosevic is due to meet President Boris Yeltsin for talks in Moscow on Tuesday.

Russia has also recalled its military envoy to Nato, but Nato officials rejected suggestions that the move had any political significance.

Operation Determined Falcon

The planes did not enter Serbian air space, staying at least 23km from the border.

The man in charge of the Nato operation, Lieutenant-General Michael Short, said pilots had been given full permission to defend themselves.

[ image: Javier Solona affirms Nato's commitment to action on Kosovo]
Javier Solona affirms Nato's commitment to action on Kosovo
The Nato Secretary General, Javier Solana, has affirmed that the alliance will not allow the bloodshed in Kosovo to reach the scale of the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

He said Nato would not hesitate to launch a full-scale air attack if the crisis demanded it.

"Let me be quite clear: Nato will not stand idly by," Mr Solana said in Warsaw on Sunday.

Balkan analyst Gabriel Partos considers Yugoslavia's likely response to Nato's manoeuvres and Russia's diplomatic efforts

The American Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, said recent Serbian actions in Kosovo were unacceptable and amounted to ethnic cleansing. French President Jacques Chirac made similar remarks earlier in the week.

Fighting continues

The Serb military has continued shelling some areas in Kosovo, according to international monitors in Albania, and refugees are fleeing the fighting.

The BBC's Paul Welsh: "This time the international community means business"
Details cannot be confirmed because the Serb authorities are preventing independent observers from going to the area.

The separatist Kosovo Liberation Army made a show of strength over the weekend with a series of attacks on police and army positions.

A correspondent says the KLA's activities pose a problem for Nato, which seeks to stop more slaughter of civilians without appearing to help the KLA.

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