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Saturday, May 29, 1999 Published at 13:34 GMT 14:34 UK

World: Europe

Aid group plans Kosovo air drops

The airdrops will target displaced Albanian refugees

Food and emergency relief supplies will be dropped by plane over Kosovo "within days", a United States-based aid agency has announced.

Yugoslavia has not granted permission for the airlift.

BBC Correspondent Paul Reynolds: "The situation of many of the refugees was dire"
The organisation, the International Rescue Committee, says it will use two chartered Russian planes flying out of Italy, and drop enough food to feed 15,000 people every day.

The IRC says it has received a grant from the US Agency for International Development to help pay for the flights.

France and the United Kingdom are also likely to support the programme, according to a statement released by the French Foreign Ministry.

French President Jacques Chirac floated the idea several weeks ago but Nato military chiefs have refused to risk their planes for fear of attack.

Safety not guaranteed

Nato Commander Wesley Clark: "Best that these flights not be associated with Nato"
Reports say that the timing of the airdrops will be co-ordinated with Nato, to avoid confusion. The IRC says it has informed the Yugoslav Government and hopes its humanitarian mission will be permitted.

"We notified Belgrade of our intentions to do these humanitarian flights," IRC President Richard Levy told Reuters. But he added, "We did not request permission."

Yugoslav Foreign Ministry Spokesman Miloslav Paic told the BBC, however, that Belgrade would view such a move as a hostile act.

Mr Levy acknowledged he could not guarantee the safety of the flights.

"We recognise that we are operating in a theatre of war and there's risk," he said. "We have created an inspection system that we believe will pass any test that these items are entirely intended for humanitarian aid."

Widespread shortages

[ image: Relief workers report widespread shortages]
Relief workers report widespread shortages
The air drops will target areas in Kosovo where displaced Albanians are believed to be hiding.

The food will be vegetarian, to accommodate possible religous requirements by Albanian Muslims.

On Friday, an official of the Rome-based World Food Programme reported widespread food shortages.

WFP logistics chief, Lopez da Silva, said thousands of Albanian refugees were suffering from lack of food and medical supplies.

Pentagon warning

US defence officials have, however, voiced their fears over the proposed mission.

"I think it's not a good idea, frankly as an airman," said a Pentagon spokesman, Major General Charles Wald.

"One reason I say that is because I have zero trust in what Milosevic or his army might try to do," he said.

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