NATO strikes 'brains' of Belgrade; Britain sends more planes
April 30, 1999
LONDON (CNN) -- NATO on Friday struck a number of Belgrade targets that a British official called "the brains behind the brutality" in Yugoslavia as Britain announced it would put additional aircraft into the air campaign.
Britain will add four Harrier and four Tornado attack jets to the NATO air fleet, plus an additional tanker, Gen. Charles Guthrie, the chief of Britain's defense staff, said Friday. That announcement came a day after the United States announced it will send 10 more B-52 bombers and 28 aerial tankers to the Balkan campaign.
The new aircraft will allow NATO to attack targets in Yugoslavia with "greater frequency and intensity," Guthrie said.
"They also demonstrate Britain's commitment to continuing the campaign at an increased intensity until our objectives are achieved," he said.
Friday's bombardment was the heaviest to date in the Yugoslav capital, torching the main Yugoslav army headquarters and other targets that drive the country's military machine. NATO officials said at least one bomb went astray and hit a residential area of Belgrade.
"The point we made last night is that we will go for the head as much as the feet in this operation," NATO spokesman Jamie Shea said.
NATO pilots flew 600 sorties Thursday and Friday in the heaviest round of bombardment since the air war began March 24, Shea said.
The aerial assaults came as Yugoslavia rebuffed a plea by the Rev. Jesse Jackson, a U.S. civil rights activist, for the release of three captive U.S. Army soldiers, and hours before the arrival of Russian special envoy Viktor Chernomyrdin, who came to Belgrade with what he called "concrete proposals" for a settlement of the conflict over Kosovo.
And adding to the rough night in Belgrade was a moderate earthquake that hit the city early Friday. Belgrade Radio said a magnitude 5.5 quake shook the region, with its epicenter near Valjevo, 40 miles (60 km) south of Belgrade.
NATO's targets Friday included five in downtown Belgrade, including the top offices of the country's armed forces. Yugoslav Army headquarters and two Ministry of Defense buildings were hit, as well as two buildings housing special police offices for the Yugoslav federation and Serbia, Guthrie said.
"Many of these targets are indeed the brains behind the brutality going on in Kosovo today, part of the apparatus that is driving this ethnic genocide that is going on inside this part of former Yugoslavia," British Defense Secretary George Robertson said.
NATO officials accuse Yugoslav troops and special police of carrying out a campaign against ethnic Albanian civilians in Kosovo -- a charge Yugoslavia denies.
Homes destroyed in Belgrade
Friday's attacks began with a series of explosions that roused the capital in the early morning hours, sending bright orange flames and thick smoke high into the sky above Belgrade.
Authorities also said two houses and a restaurant in a civilian neighborhood were damaged. CNN's Brent Sadler toured the area immediately after the bombing and reported "considerable" damage in what appeared to be the first destruction of civilian property in the city.
The strikes left thousands of gallons of water from broken underground mains rushing through the streets of Belgrade.
In the Vracar neighborhood, authorities said two NATO weapons destroyed two houses and a restaurant. There was no immediate report of casualties.
"I can see a lot of debris, a lot of rubble in what is a civilian area," Sadler said. "There is a considerable amount of damage."
NATO acknowledged hitting a Belgrade neighborhood, but said the strike was accidental.
"I wish to emphasize that we only target military facilities and take every precaution to avoid civilian casualties and damage to civilian property," said Brig. Gen. Giuseppe Marani, NATO's military spokesman. "Civilians and civilian infrastructure are not our intended targets."
Serbian television resumed broadcasts, but then went dark again during the pre-dawn attacks, just after finishing a newscast.
Targets around Yugoslavia included an army facility in Novi Pazar; a militia station in Srbica; border posts in Krstac and Jasika; police headquarters in Prizren; and two surface-to-air missile sites in Pancevo.
Better weather has allowed NATO to step up the pace of its attacks on Yugoslav troops in Kosovo, Marani said.
"All over Kosovo you can expect that targets have been hit," he said. "Being mobile targets, they have been hit where they have been found."
Jackson mission rebuffed; Chernomyrdin visits
Meanwhile, Jackson was told by Yugoslavia's foreign minister Friday that three U.S. servicemen will not be freed until NATO bombing stops, sources familiar with the meeting told CNN.
Jackson still hoped to meet with the three: Staff Sgt. Andrew A. Ramirez, 24, of Los Angeles; Staff Sgt. Christopher J. Stone, 25, of Smiths Creek, Michigan; and Spc. Steven M. Gonzales, 22, of Huntsville, Texas. They were captured in late March while on a routine patrol near the Yugoslav-Macedonia border.
But Yugoslav Foreign Minister Zivadin Jovanovic told Jackson the three would not be freed now. Jackson called the meeting "tough."
At the same time, Russia is pushing ahead with diplomatic efforts to find a way to end the airstrikes through Chernomyrdin's visit Friday.
Before leaving for Yugoslavia, the former Russian premier said NATO's air attacks must be suspended before any peace plan could go forward. He did not discuss what proposal he was bringing to the table.
On Thursday, Chernomyrdin met with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder in Bonn, and Schroeder indicated that a pause in the bombing might be possible if Belgrade agrees to one of NATO's key demands -- that Serb military and police forces withdraw from Kosovo.
If a withdrawal of Serb forces could be guaranteed, "it is reasonable to think about the limited suspension of airstrikes," said Schroeder, who is also president of the European Union.
Chernomyrdin said that Yugoslavia is moving toward accepting the safe return of Kosovar refugees and had agreed "to an international presence (in Kosovo) under the aegis of the United Nations and this is a big step forward -- with Russian participation in particular. This is the first step that gives us hope."
NATO has insisted that NATO troops -- not a U.N. force -- make up the core of any Kosovo peacekeeping mission.
In Washington, Vice President Al Gore spoke with Chernomyrdin after his meeting with Schroeder, encouraging the envoy's diplomatic efforts to end the conflict, saying Russia could have a significant role in an international security force, U.S. officials said.
The White House had no official comment on the Chernomyrdin trip, saying it did not want to "upend" the effort.
Yugoslavia takes claims to world court
Meanwhile, Yugoslavia brought charges against NATO states Thursday before the International Court of Justice in the Hague, accusing the alliance of "violating their international obligation not to use force against another state."
Yugoslavia asked the court to declare NATO responsible for failing to protect civilians during wartime. Yugoslavia also asked the ICJ to order NATO to immediately stop the airstrikes and to pay "compensation for the damage done."
Yugoslavia said both military and civilian targets have come under attack during bombings, and that "about 1,000 civilians, including 19 children were killed, and more than 4,500 sustained serious injuries."
At the U.S. State Department, spokesman James Rubin said the United States considers the charges "an absurdity."
Preliminary hearings on the case will begin May 10 and are expected to last two days.
Not all NATO countries were named in the papers filed Thursday. Separate claims were filed against the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Canada, Portugal and Spain.
Jesse Jackson to meet captured U.S. soldiers in Yugoslavia
Extensive list of Kosovo-related sites:
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