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Friday, April 2, 1999 Published at 12:06 GMT 13:06 UK

World: Americas

Captured soldiers bring crisis home

Yellow ribbons and US flags at the home of one of the captured soldiers

The three US soldiers being held in Serbia, Christopher Stone, Andrew Ramirez and Steven Gonzalez, have become public heroes overnight in the US, and have brought the war in Yugoslavia home to Americans in the process.

Kosovo: Special Report
The capture of the three US soldiers, near the Macedonian border with Yugoslavia, has gripped America's front pages with the USA Today's "Crisis in Kosovo comes home to US," typical of the headlines.

The New York Post's headline blazed: "Don't you dare" in response to the Serbian threat to court-martial the three men.

The paper said: "The war in Yugoslavia came home to America this week - to the far-flung hometowns of three soldiers captured by Serbs on the Macedonia border."

Katty Kay in Washington: "The prisoners are public heroes"
American warplanes have flown 60-70% of the strikes over Kosovo during the course of the nine-day war, but as the New York Times said: "Thursday's raids were overshadowed by the seizure of the Americans, something that the White House and the Pentagon... had deeply feared."

Pictures of anguished parents, yellow ribbons being strung around the soldiers' home towns, and stories of communities falling silent in nervous prayer, dominate reports.

There is extensive coverage in the newspapers of the capture of the "hometown heroes", along with the reaction of everyone from President Bill Clinton down to family and friends of the soldiers.

[ image:  ]
Reporting from the Yugoslav region, the Washington Post said said the action had the effect of "bringing the war home to the 12,000 Nato troops deployed here as well as [to] capital cities on both sides of the Atlantic.

And, as highlighted by the Miami Herald under the headline "Clinton warns Milosevic over US soldiers", the decision-makers are keenly watching public opinion.

"Clinton administration officials, ever mindful of American public opinion, do not believe that the video of the US soldiers shown on Serb television will substantially erode support for Nato's mission," the paper said.

US divided

However, polls by major US television networks continue to show public opinion evenly divided over the air strikes, and the capture of the soldiers has had little immediate effect on individual attitudes.

A range of opinion on US invovment in Kosovo
The polls - by CNN, CBS and ABC - have shown support hovering around 50%, but several of the polls also showed about 10% of those polled were undecided.

The large number of "don't knows" demonstrates the uncertainty many Americans express about the role of the US in Kosovo.

A large number of Americans have expressed concern about reports of atrocities in the region, but are unsure how the US can act to stop the bloodshed.

Opinion varies widely

In interviews with visitors to Washington DC from around the country, the capture of the soldiers did little to change their opinion.

Scott Hansen is on vacation from Illinois. He expressed uncertainty about the US role in the conflict in Kosovo.

[ image: One of the captured soldiers on patrol]
One of the captured soldiers on patrol
"I think we should go in and get our guys and use what force is necessary, but I still feel I'm not sure that we belong there," he said.

Lou Tkacz of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, is now more in favour of the Nato action: "We should be more aggressive with ground troops. ...I was for it before (the soldiers' capture), and it has only made me feel more aggressive toward it".

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