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Three U.S. Soldiers Missing Amidst Widening Conflict

By James Gerstenzang, Paul Richter and Elizabeth Shogren

Three U.S. Army soldiers in Macedonia patrolling Yugoslavia’s southern border were reported missing late Wednesday after they radioed fellow soldiers that they were under fire, according to NATO and Pentagon officials.

The soldiers’ disappearance came as the allied bombardment of Yugoslavia entered its second week. In a day of wide-ranging action, bombers struck for the first time near the heart of the Yugoslav capital, Belgrade, Russia ordered warships steaming toward the conflict, and Serbian forces continued an unrestrained rampage across Kosovo.

The U.S. reconnaissance team had been traveling in a Humvee northwest of the Kumanovo area, about 20 miles from Skopje, the Macedonian capital, and just south of the Serbian border. An Army unit, with British and Macedonian troops, began a search on the ground and by helicopter.

The soldiers were part of the 4th Cavalry Regiment of the 1st Infantry Division based in Wurzburg, Germany. They had arrived in early March to relieve another contingent.

The soldiers are part of Task Force Able Sentry, which had been in Macedonia to stabilize the region but was supplanted by a NATO force, whose original goal was to enforce any Kosovo peace accord.

The names of the soldiers were not being released pending notification of their family members.

“There was an incident, and investigations are going on,” Maj. David Pashen, duty officer at the NATO media information center in Skopje. Pashen said he could not go into any other details about what happened to the soldiers, their current location or the mission underway to rescue them.

A Pentagon official in Washington said the soldiers may have been abducted by Serbian soldiers, Serbian secret police or even Serbian radicals in Macedonia.

In other developments Wednesday:

--Pentagon officials expressed concern that the Air Force and Navy were depleting their supply of cruise missiles more rapidly than some planners preferred. They have fired more than 100. All told, the military campaign is costing the Pentagon an estimated several hundred million dollars a week.

--A United Nations court said it has indicted Zeljko Raznatovic, a notorious Serbian paramilitary leader known as “Arkan,” in September 1997 on allegations of committing war crimes during the Bosnian civil war in the mid-1990s. He has been seen in Belgrade in recent days.

--The Clinton administration said it was setting aside $50 million to help provide food and shelter for the more than 580,000 people of Kosovo that the State Department estimates have been uprooted.

--At least 7,000 men, women and children were marched to the train station in Kosovo’s capital, Pristina. No independent witnesses were allowed to see what happened to them next, but a Serbian journalist said they were being taken south to the Macedonian border.

--The Vatican’s foreign minister, Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, was heading to Belgrade Thursday with a personal appeal for peace from Pope John Paul II.