Captured G.I.'s More Valuable Alive

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BELGRADE: Three American G.I.'s in enemy hands will face a Yugoslav military court, and right now, there's not much the U.S. is willing to do about it. Good thing Christopher Stone, Steven Gonzales and Andrew Ramirez have the good Saint Machiavelli watching over them. "I don't fear for their lives, because Milosevic knows they're no good to him dead," says TIME foreign correspondent William Dowell. "He'll probably use the court to threaten them, but their purpose is as a bargaining chip to try and find a way out of this war with a negotiated settlement." And NATO, with Somalia on its mind, will have to listen.

Whether the soldiers were in Macedonia or Serbia is not only murky, it's irrelevant. At the Pentagon, the hard question is: How was this allowed to happen? "NATO knew that the Serbs would try something like this to up the ante, and yet these three were isolated from the rest of their patrol," says Dowell. "That's a failure of command somewhere." Impotent lectures on borders and international law like the State Department's homilies Thursday won't lessen the humiliation that Milosevic has once again laid at the West's door. "Counting on Milosevic to play by the rules is what got the U.S. into this mess," says Dowell. "There are no rules." Except the rule of self-interest.

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