NATO missiles strike central Belgrade
April 2, 1999
BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (CNN) -- NATO missiles slammed into downtown Belgrade early Saturday, transforming two government buildings into towers of bright orange flames.
The Yugoslavian and Serbian ministries of internal affairs were hit, Yugoslav officials said. Serbian television showed video of the burning buildings, with sheets of fire pouring out their blackened windows.
Fire crews rushed to the scene in a seemingly futile effort to control the raging blaze while police cordoned off the area.
The Pentagon confirmed that U.S. ships in the Adriatic Sea fired at least seven cruise missiles at targets in the Yugoslav capital.
The missiles are striking "at the core of the regime's ability to conduct the campaign against the Kosovar Albanians," said Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon. He would not elaborate on specific targets.
The attack marked the first time NATO has hit the heart of Belgrade since the airstrikes began March 24. A senior U.S. administration official told CNN that better weather over Yugoslavia allowed a "deeper target list" and that NATO was going after "high-value" targets it had wanted to hit for several days.
"We have been frustrated by our inability to ratchet it up and are getting at least a little break today," the official said.
NATO has directed more force in recent days at Yugoslav army supply lines, and those attacks are damaging soldiers' morale, the Pentagon said earlier Friday.
"The forces are clearly more wary of being hit. They've had to disperse more and are having a harder time operating in large, coherent units," Bacon said.
When asked how the United States knew about morale in the Yugoslav army, Bacon said the Pentagon had a wide array of sources.
NATO may get some extra firepower. The USS Theodore Roosevelt is due to enter the Mediterranean early Saturday. Bacon said he would not be surprised if that ship was ordered into the Adriatic for use in Operation Allied Force.
That move would give NATO 40 to 50 extra combat planes to fly more sorties over Yugoslavia.
The B-1 bomber flew its first mission Thursday night, attacking some Yugoslav army staging areas in Kosovo. Bacon said the objective was to weaken the soldiers' ability to carry out oppression in Kosovo.
NATO spokesmen Jamie Shea and British Air Commodore David Wilby said Friday the sustained NATO airstrikes were creating fuel shortages for the Yugoslav army and Serb police units and were somewhat slowing the military crackdown in Kosovo.
NATO said Friday the number of ethnic Albanians forced by Serbia to flee their homes in Kosovo had reached 634,000, or about one-third of the pre-conflict population.
NATO expressed concern about the continued Kosovo refugee crisis, which it said was caused by a large-scale ethnic cleansing campaign.
The Yugoslav government has denied such allegations, saying the ethnic Albanian refugees are fleeing the fighting between government troops and the Kosovo Liberation Army.
Shea said at Friday's news conference at NATO headquarters that Yugoslav troops had forced 30,000 people out of the Kosovo capital in the past 24 hours.
He said Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic was deliberately pushing the refugees out into neighboring countries in order to "destabilize the region."
Shea said NATO would continue to provide tents, communications gear and other aid to go with supplies from the European Union and the U.N. refugee agency.
"Serb paramilitaries, locally raised militias, continue to terrorize ethnic Albanians and take advantage of the situations to loot" Kosovo villages, Wilby told the news media.
He showed NATO intelligence footage that he said showed clear proof of the Serbs' deliberate and systematic destruction of ethnic Albanian housing and other property in Kosovo.
NATO said it had reports from various sources saying that families were being separated, and men and boys were led away.
"What has happened to the men?" Shea asked at the news conference. "Will the authorities in Belgrade please tell us: where are all of the Kosovar Albanian men between the ages of 16 and 60?"
Wilby said that more than a week of NATO airstrikes had forced the Yugoslav army to hide its tanks or take up positions in deserted villages and towns.
"This cat-and-mouse activity is causing them to use up critical fuel supplies," Wilby said. A field brigade was immobilized Thursday by a lack of fuel, he said.
NATO bombings against key army supply routes, support facilities and field forces will continue unabated, he said.
Among the targets hit in the recent NATO attack were a bridge in Novi Sad and field force targets in the Pagarusa Valley, where Serbs were said to have shelled ethnic Albanians.
Serbian state-controlled TV reported Friday that NATO missiles hit an army barracks in the town of Vranje in southeastern Serbia.
The Belgrade-based Tanjug news agency said NATO jets struck near the western Kosovo town of Klina, 50 kilometers (30 miles) west of Pristina.
It was the first reported attack near Klina, located along a major road junction used by Serbian forces.
Also, a NATO jet fired missiles Friday at the television transmitter on Mount Cvilen above the southern city of Prizren but missed, the agency said.
"Mr. Milosevic wants to replace President Djukanovic by a man of his own choosing. Although I cannot give you the details today, I can say that I have evidence to show that he's preparing a coup against Montenegro," said Defense Ministry spokesman Edgar Buckley.
"As a first step, he has already replaced the army commander, General Martinovic, by a new general who can be relied upon to follow his orders," Buckley said.
The Pentagon said that should Yugoslav forces move into Montenegro they would face intensified attacks from NATO.
In Sevastopol, on the Black Sea, the Russian reconnaissance ship Linman left its dock early Friday for the Mediterranean. Its mission, according to the Russian defense minister, is not to fight, but to provide intelligence.
"The purpose is to collect more detailed information. We should have such information in the interests of Russian security," said Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev.
But military analysts say that intelligence, if shared with the Serbs, could endanger NATO ships.
The defense minister said as many as six more vessels, including warships, could be sent to the region during the next few days, depending on how events develop.
There are reports Yugoslavia will hand over the remains of the downed American F-117 to the Russians.
The Pentagon said that move would not be surprising. Spokesman Bacon also noted the plane's stealth technology is more than 20 years old and is "quite difficult to duplicate."
Captured U.S. soldiers face Serb military trial
Extensive list of Kosovo-related sites
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