Home > 1997-1999 from the Balkans, Serbia, Yougoslavia > Daily Life in Belgrade Teeters Under Strikes

Daily Life in Belgrade Teeters Under Strikes

April 5, 1999

by Guy Dinmore
Special to The Washington Post –  Monday, April 5, 1999

BELGRADE, April 5 (Monday)—Acrid black smoke from a burning heating plant attacked by NATO forces wafted over Belgrade most of Sunday as allied airstrikes on fuel depots, bridges and communications
sites began to take a toll on the Yugoslav economy and affect the daily lives of residents of the country’s largest cities.

The government, already three months behind on paying pensions, told state workers that it could not pay their latest monthly salaries. Gasoline is increasingly hard to find, and the value of the currency, the dinar, has fallen about 10 percent since the airstrikes began 12 days ago.

Early this morning, NATO planes attacked several targets on the outskirts of Belgrade and in other parts of Yugoslavia, the Associated Press reported. The Belgrade crisis center said planes hit two suburbs of the
capital — Surcin, where the international airport is located, and Rakovica.

Later, the official Tanjug news agency said NATO planes targeted an army
barracks in the town of Raska, 100 miles south of Belgrade. Some injuries
were reported, but no details were given.

While the NATO air campaign has raised the sense of fear and anxiety
among Yugoslav civilians, their concerns are outweighed by growing public
outrage over the attacks, which have sparked a surge of Serbian nationalist
sentiment across the country.

Despite the wail of air raid sirens, thousands of people, young and old
alike, sang, danced and waved anti-NATO placards in the capital’s
Republic Square Sunday for another nationally broadcast “rock the
bombs” concert. Similar daily concerts are now being held in major cities
throughout the country.

“Crazy Nero burned Rome, the craziest Clinton is burning Europe,” read
one banner in the crowd here. “NATO, this is your swan song,” read
another.

“Have they no religion?” asked a Belgrade resident who identified herself
as Milena, expressing astonishment that NATO refused to halt the
airstrikes during “its” Easter weekend. Most Serbs are Orthodox
Christians, who celebrate Easter next Sunday.

Public anger against NATO and the West has intensified since U.S. cruise
missiles first struck at the heart of Belgrade early Saturday, destroying two
Interior Ministry buildings. Here in Belgrade, making telephone calls
outside the country has become more difficult, although it has not been
clear why. Telephone and water service were disrupted over the weekend
in Novi Sad, Yugoslavia’s second-largest city, where NATO airstrikes
have destroyed two of three bridges across the Danube River.

Demand for cigarettes — many Serbs are inveterate smokers — has shot
up in recent days, and the few shops that have some them in stock are
rationing sales to two packs per person.

In an effort to calm anxieties about the possible return of the hyperinflation
of the early 1990s, the government has said it will not resort to printing
more money to ease the country out of its economic difficulties. Yugoslav
President Slobodan Milosevic met with National Bank Governor Dusan
Vlatkovic and Serbian Prime Minister Mirko Marjanovic, and the three
pledged they would preserve “monetary and price stability,” the official
Tanjug news service reported.

The agency said they discussed a “reorganization of the banking system
with the aim of its more efficient adaptation to the circumstances of the
state of war.”

NATO began airstrikes against Yugoslavia on March 24 in an effort to end
the violence in Kosovo — a province of Serbia, the dominant republic in
the Yugoslav federation — where ethnic Albanians outnumber Serbs 9 to
1. Yugoslav troops and Serbian paramilitary forces have been attacking
ethnic Albanian villages in Kosovo, apparently killing unspecified numbers
and causing tens of thousands of people to flee the country.

NATO missile strikes against three fuel depots near Belgrade early Sunday
killed three civilian workers and injured at least five others, according to
the army. The night sky was illuminated by a giant fireball, followed by a
pall of black smoke, when missiles struck a fuel depot that fed a plant
supplying heat to 300,000 people in the suburb of New Belgrade. A night
watchman reportedly was killed and two workers injured. Noxious odors
from burning fuel spread out from the neighborhood. The attack destroyed
the fuel tanks, but the heating plant itself was not damaged, officials said.
Windows of surrounding apartment buildings were shattered by the blast.

A woman named Olga, who asked that her last name not be used, said she
was saved by her piano, which blocked a shower of glass from her
exploding windows. Like many Serbs, she spurns air raid shelters “because
of the rats and dirt.” Shocked and angry, she said she would send the bill
for new windows to President Clinton.

An attack on an oil refinery in Pancevo, northeast of Belgrade, killed two
workers, the Yugoslav army said. It said the refinery was put out of action
because its energy-producing units were disabled but that although the rest
of the complex was not severely damaged.

The army also said that “enemy aircraft” bombed the Beopetrol fuel depot
in the central town of Kraljevo, burning up diesel fuel intended for use by
farmers. In addition, NATO warplanes bombed a household appliances
factory that once employed 5,000 workers in the central city of Cacak.
NATO sources said part of the factory had military uses, but local officials
denied it.

The city most affected by NATO’s stepped-up attacks against what the
alliance says are military-civilian facilities is Novi Sad, in northern
Serbia. A
powerful explosion was heard late Sunday near the city, according to state
television, which reported that the blast was preceded by fire from the
country’s air-defense system.

Last Wednesday, NATO cruise missiles destroyed a bridge linking the old
and new quarters of Novi Sad across the Danube, and on Saturday a
second bridge was hit. Television pictures showed a car teetering
precariously on the edge of the shattered ruins, and residents said another
car had plunged into the river. Some pedestrians and at least one cyclist
were wounded, the broadcast said. The latter attack came just after 8 p.m.
with no prior warning by air raid sirens.

Novi Sad residents said that seven people had been injured and that two
were rescued by the local rowing club when they jumped off the collapsing
bridge as it was hit. “I was riding my bike and saw a bomb flying overhead
just as if it was in a photograph,” one injured man told a television reporter
at the hospital in Novi Sad.

The Danube, Europe’s longest river, was already blocked by NATO’s
bombing of another bridge on Thursday. “Great work, very original,” one
embittered bystander told reporters taken to visit the Novi Sad site,
according to the Reuters news service.

The residents of Novi Sad now have just one bridge left and are without
the services provided by the water and telephone lines that ran across the
two destroyed bridges.

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