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Flames Gut Belgrade Buildings

April 3, 1999

Article from: The Washington Post
Article date: April 3, 1999
Author: Guy Dinmore

Flames shot high into an overcast night sky as two multistory government buildings were turned into towering infernos early this morning when NATO cruise missiles directly hit both structures and tore them apart.

Police and army vehicles cordoned off nearby streets as crowds of Serbs gathered in a light rain to watch the fires in the federal Yugoslav and Serbian Interior Ministry headquarters, which face each other across this city’s main boulevard.

Some people wept and others shouted “Fascists!” venting their anger over NATO’s air campaign against Yugoslavia, which struck the heart of the capital for the first time since the assaults began on March 24. After the missiles struck, several hundred residents formed a human chain across the main bridge over the Sava River, all wearing white placards with black bull’s-eye targets, which have become a symbol of Serbian resistance to NATO’s airstrikes.

Yugoslav Deputy Prime Minister Vuk Draskovic, interviewed this morning on Britain’s Sky TV, said the last time Belgrade had been bombed on an Easter weekend was in April 1941 by Nazi Germany. “This is no different,” Draskovic said. “This is an attack on Serbian civilization.”

Air raid sirens sounded about three hours before the missiles landed, and the streets were mostly deserted when the attack began just before 1 a.m. (6 p.m. Friday EST). Seven missiles in total were fired from two U.S. warships, the Pentagon said. A series of explosions ravaged the buildings, sending flames shooting toward Belgrade’s nearby main hospital.

The U.S. Embassy, which stands just a few hundred yards away, was not believed to have been damaged in the attack, although it has been vandalized since the United States evacuated diplomatic personnel shortly before NATO launched airstrikes against Yugoslavia over the crackdown in Kosovo province. Fire engines raced to the scene and firefighters trained their hoses on the flames, but their efforts appeared to be having little effect.

The Serbian Interior Ministry is a large complex that serves as headquarters for the special forces, which have been blamed for many of the attacks against ethnic Albanian civilians in Kosovo, a province of Serbia, the dominant Yugoslav republic. It appeared that at least the main building was in flames as the result of this morning’s attack.

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