Attacks Shatter Life in Belgrade
by Guy Dinmore
Special to The Washington Post – March 28, 1999; Page A29
BELGRADE, March 27 – Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic accused NATO of “despotism” today, but the Western alliance responded with another barrage of airstrikes as life in the capital showed signs of strain after four days of attacks.
Milosevic again rejected Western demands to agree to a deal that calls for autonomy for the Serbian province of Kosovo and NATO troops to be based there to keep the peace. He issued a statement saying that “the citizens of Yugoslavia are unanimous in their resolve not to allow at any cost the enemies to occupy their country.”
In a meeting with senior government officials reported by state television, Milosevic said NATO represented the most serious threat to world peace since 1945. “It is the duty of all free countries to stand up to the military despotism of NATO, led by the U.S., which is destroying the United Nations system,” he said.
At least two explosions were heard west of Belgrade late this afternoon. Information on the targets was not immediately available, and there were no reports of casualties. Residents trying to catch up on sleep after spending Friday night in cramped air raid shelters had to rush back underground.
“We can’t be rats and live underground forever,” said Milan, a factory worker who remained in his living room, not far from Belgrade’s military airport, as the missiles fell. “I don’t have another house, and I am not leaving this one.”
After night fell, several explosions resounded south of the city. Air raid sirens didn’t go off before the blasts, an indication that Yugoslavia’s early warning system might be damaged. Residents in the nearby industrial city of Pancevo said they also were under attack.
While morale among civilians remains high, with many saying Yugoslavia is more united than ever, life in Belgrade is growing more difficult.
Few cars are on the road as gasoline becomes scarce. Stores are still well stocked with food, but it is difficult to get basics like milk. Lines formed at the few kiosks with cigarettes, and residents are stocking up on gas canisters and water containers, fearing that utilities will soon be knocked out.
The Yugoslav army, meanwhile, held its first news conference for foreign journalists today and said they could continue working, but must be escorted to “war zones” and have television material vetted before transmission.
But their status under Yugoslavia’s officially declared “state of war” remained uncertain following an expulsion order issued Thursday by Serbia’s Information Ministry.
The next day the federal Yugoslav Information Ministry said it had overruled the expulsion order, but the Serbian ministry responded by describing the statements of Deputy Prime Minister Vuk Draskovic as “stupid, incompetent and inappropriate.” Serbia and Montenegro are the two republics that make up Yugoslavia.
The dispute over foreign journalists reflects a struggle between two smaller coalition partners of Milosevic’s Socialists. The ultranationalist Serbian Radical Party, led by the former paramilitary leader Vojislav Seselj, runs the Serbian Information Ministry, while the more moderate Serb Renewal Party, led by Draskovic, controls the federal Information Ministry.
Col. Milivoje Novkovic, spokesman for the Yugoslav army, said today that the NATO attacks had inflicted heavy civilian casualties, but gave no details. Foreign reporters, who have been denied access to hospitals and bomb sites, could not confirm the claim. However, state media have appealed to Serbs to donate blood and medical workers in Belgrade said about 50 civilians were injured in Wednesday’s attacks.
Reporting details of Friday night’s attacks, the independent B92 radio station said a fuel depot in Sremcica, south of Belgrade, was hit, causing a forest fire and the release of toxic chemicals. The military airport at Batajnica was also bombed, as well as targets in five other areas near Belgrade.
Police forced B92 off the air Wednesday but the station still releases news on the Internet. City officials denied earlier Studio B television reports that a Belgrade pharmaceutical factory had been hit.