No lull in bombing; Yugoslavia ponders peace plan
May 7, 1999
BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (CNN) -- As Russia's Balkan envoy prepared to take the Group of Eight countries' peace offer to Yugoslavia, Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic said NATO must stop its air raids before he would agree to negotiations.
Hopes for an end to the 7-week-old air war came at the same time as continued attacks Friday. Yugoslav officials said NATO airstrikes hit a hospital and a market with cluster bombs Friday in Nis, killing at least 10 and leaving more than a dozen injured.
NATO targeted the airport and key fuel facilities in Nis and hit Milosevic's hometown of Pozarevac, in northern Serbia, in raids overnight Thursday and Friday. Other targets included a railway bridge northeast of Belgrade near the Romanian border, which Serbian news reports said was destroyed.
Amid the attacks, Milosevic told Yugoslavia's state media Friday that further talks would be "predicated upon an end of the aggression and return of peace."
Viktor Chernomyrdin, the Russian special envoy to Yugoslavia, said he would return to Belgrade to present Milosevic with the G-8 proposal. Chernomyrdin said the two sides are now closer together, but he did not say when he would go back.
The G-8 plan calls for an international "civil and security presence" to keep peace in the Serbian province of Kosovo once Yugoslav troops, paramilitary units and special police withdraw. While the United Nations -- not NATO -- will attach its name to that contingent, NATO leaders insisted that their troops must form its core and leadership.
Milosevic met with a Greek delegation in Belgrade and was said to be pondering details of the G-8 formula, although he reportedly still objects to NATO being at the core of any Kosovo peacekeeping mission.
Vladislav Jovanovic, the Yugoslav representative to the United Nations, said the G-8 plan was a move in the right direction. But he was still critical of the document's call for a Yugoslav withdrawal from the strife- torn Kosovo.
"If we respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Yugoslavia, no one could expect from us to evacuate entirely any part of our territory and to leave it in limbo to others to fill it," he said.
Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov joined his G-8 counterparts Thursday in Germany to endorse the new plan, but he emphasized Friday that it was a first step toward ending the Yugoslav conflict. He repeated calls for a bombing halt as well.
"For now, it's a step in the right direction, but it's only a step," Ivanov said.
Russia maintains that Yugoslavia must approve of an international force, and Belgrade floated a proposal Thursday calling for a mix of soldiers from NATO countries, Russia and other nations.
"One has to act with respect, just as with any sovereign government," Ivanov said.
NATO spokesman Jamie Shea said on Friday that Russia's support of the G-8 plan means Yugoslavia is now isolated politically. And British Prime Minister Tony Blair said the "common ground" provided by the agreement is a plus for NATO.
"But it makes no difference to the fact that our bombing campaign goes on until our demands are met. The NATO demands are clear, and they must be met and met in full," Blair said.
Vice Adm. Ian Garnett, Britain's chief of joint operations, said the Yugoslav air force was now "singularly incapable of offering any effective defense" to NATO attacks.
In Nis, Yugoslav officials said NATO struck a heating plant at a hospital overnight and hit a marketplace Friday morning. They said the attack on the marketplace left 10 dead and 15 injured.
Maj. Gen. Walter Jertz, NATO's military spokesman, said allied air staffs were checking out the reports of civilian deaths in Nis. He declined further comment, except to emphasize that NATO sought to avoid civilian casualties.
NATO strikes hit 30 pieces of heavy military equipment in Kosovo, including seven tanks and 12 artillery pieces, Shea said. Airstrikes also focused on targets in 10 other locations, Shea said.
"By any standards, yesterday was a bad day for President Milosevic," Shea said Friday.
In Kosovo, Garnett said more than 300 Yugoslav army vehicles -- including tanks, troop carriers and trucks -- have been destroyed, along with 50 percent of the army's ammunition supply; 70 percent of its fuel stocks; and 31 bridges used as supply lines. In addition, he said half of the military's communications facilities have been destroyed.
NATO accuses Yugoslav troops of carrying out a campaign of terror against ethnic Albanian civilians in Kosovo, pushing hundreds of thousands of refugees into neighboring states.
As the pace of attacks continues to increase, the Pentagon said up to 176 aircraft, including 18 tank-killing A-10 Thunderbolts, would be sent to Europe. Their deployment would bring the already substantial NATO force of 916 planes participating in the air war to nearly 1,100 aircraft.
Yugoslavs send mixed message about peace plan
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