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NATO Destroys Major Bridge

April 4, 1999

by Guy Dinmore
Special to The Washington Post – April 4, 1999; Page A14

BELGRADE, April 3 – NATO destroyed a key bridge over the Danube in northern Serbia tonight after hitting two Interior Ministry buildings in central Belgrade, but the attacks appeared only to strengthen the resolve of Serbs.

President Slobodan Milosevic described the capital as a “city of heroes,” while his chief of staff, Gen. Dragoljub Ojdanic, said the Serbs had one weapon that NATO did not.

“They forget something,” he said on state television. “The strongest weapon is a man defending his country, home and family.”

The daily pop concert held in central Belgrade drew its biggest crowd to date, and a full military orchestra played the army’s new theme song. Protesters in other Serbian cities that have been holding similar anti-NATO festivals held posters of Milosevic and chanted, “Slobo! Slobo!”

Many Serbs turned out in Belgrade to look at the smoldering ruins of the Serbian and federal Yugoslav Interior ministries that were set on fire by cruise missiles early this morning. Windows in surrounding buildings were shattered, but no deaths were reported.

State television showed pictures of many women and children in the basement of the nearby maternity hospital after the strike – scenes that further hardened public opinion.

“NATO has no soul or heart,” said Miroljub Krstic, a retired professor of law, wondering how the Western powers could launch attacks over the Easter weekend.

Yugoslav Interior Minister Vlajko Stojiljkovic, inspecting the damage to his command centers, compared the bombing with raids on Belgrade by Nazi Germany’s Luftwaffe more than a half-century ago.

“In April 1941, Hitler’s Nazis bombed Belgrade. Here we are now in 1999, also in April, and [President] Clinton and NATO’s neo-Nazis are again bombing Belgrade,” he told state television.

“I can say that this was an act by monsters, criminals and nothing else. We stand united. We and our successors will build even better buildings than these that the nazis are trying to destroy,” Stojiljkovic said.

Meanwhile, residents of Novi Sad, where a cruise missile attack wrecked the main bridge, said there was no warning given by air raid sirens and they believed one car was on the bridge when it collapsed.

The official Yugoslav news agency Tanjug said seven civilians were injured and had been admitted to the emergency clinic in Novi Sad. It said the Backa Palanka bridge on the Croatian border was also hit. It gave no details.

River traffic on the Danube, a main artery for central and eastern Europe, is likely to be blocked for months.

In Belgrade, Serbs continued to vent their anger on Western embassies. A cutout figure of an American soldier hung from a noose outside the U.S. Embassy alongside an American flag with swastikas instead of stars. “We keep our idiots in the madhouse. You keep yours in the White House,” said a placard on the door.

The glass doors leading into the Canadian Embassy have been demolished. “Republic of Quebec,” reads graffiti on the wall, in a mocking reference to the aspirations of independence held by the Kosovo Albanians.

Diplomats in Belgrade reacted with skepticism to NATO claims that Serbia’s military machine had been severely “degraded.” Cloud and rain over the past week have hampered direct attacks on Serbian forces in Kosovo, which have dispersed and are difficult to target.

Claims by U.S. officials that Yugoslavia is having problems mobilizing reservists appeared not to be true, at least in Samokovo, a village near Kosovo. In towns along the way, large numbers of men of all ages could be seen in military uniform. Military installations had taken direct hits by bombs or missiles, but were only damaged.

In Samokovo, reporters were shown the shredded and flattened ruins of a mud-brick farmhouse next to a large crater, where military officials said Vucinje Stepanovic, 44, was killed and his brother critically injured. The only object that might have been a target for NATO in the area was a communications tower more than half a mile away.

“You see what was done by Western democracy,” shouted Dragan Lukic, a neighbor who on hearing a loud explosion rushed to claw at the rubble to rescue his friends. “Stop this human madness.”

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