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SERBIA DISASTER BY GUY DINMORE (BELGRADE)

April 18, 1999

Voice of America

INTRO: THICK CLOUDS OF BLACK SMOKE ENVELOPED THE NORTHERN OUTSKIRTS OF BELGRADE (SUNDAY) AFTER A NATO AIR STRIKE AGAINST YUGOSLAVIA’S BIGGEST PETRO-CHEMICALS COMPLEX. OFFICIALS ACCUSED NATO OF CREATING AN ECOLOGICAL DISASTER. GUY DINMORE REPORTS FROM BELGRADE.

TEXT: THE FIRE WAS STILL RAGING MORE THAN 12 HOURS AFTER THREE MISSILES STRUCK THE INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX IN PANCEVO, JUST OUTSIDE BELGRADE, (EARLY SUNDAY). THICK BLACK SMOKE WAS POURING FROM THE TWISTED WRECKAGE, CARRYING TOXIC FUMES ACROSS EASTERN SERBIA.YUGOSLAV OFFICIALS SAID RESIDENTS IN THE AREA WERE ISSUED GAS MASKS AND 50 PEOPLE HAD BEEN TREATED FOR GAS POISONING. STRONG WINDS FROM THE WEST HELPED DISPERSE THE FUMES, BUT HEAVY RAIN BROUGHT SOME OF THE TOXIC CHEMICALS BACK TO EARTH.

THE MISSILES HIT AN OIL REFINERY, PRESUMABLY IN A FURTHER BID TO IMMOBILIZE THE YUGOSLAV ARMED FORCES. BUT IN THE SAME ATTACK A PLANT PRODUCING PLASTICS WAS ALSO DESTROYED.

MIRLAM DZINDO, MANAGER OF THE CHEMICALS COMPLEX, SAID DEADLY PHOSGENE HAD BEEN RELEASED INTO THE AIR, BUT OTHER EXPERTS DISPUTED THIS SAYING IT WAS CHLORINE.

OFFICIALS SAID THAT TO AVOID FURTHER EXPLOSIONS THEY WERE FORCED TO DUMP CHLORINE-BASED CHEMICALS INTO THE NEARBY DANUBE AT THE RISK OF DESTROYING LIFE IN THE RIVER THAT FLOWS THROUGH ROMANIA AND BULGARIA INTO THE BLACK SEA. BELGRADE RESIDENTS WERE ADVISED TO STOP EATING RIVER FISH. OIL HAS ALSO SPILLED INTO THE RIVER, CREATING SLICKS SEVERAL MILES LONG.

OFFICIALS SAID THEY HAD AVERTED A WORST CATASTROPHE BY REMOVING 20-THOUSAND TONS OF AMMONIA FROM A NEARBY FERTILIZER FACTORY, BUT THE PLANT WAS HIT AND PUT OUT OF ACTION. MR DZINDO SAID YUGOSLAVIA’S FOOD SUPPLY WAS NOW ENDANGERED AND HE CALLED NATO’S ACTION — OUR WORST NIGHTMARE COME TRUE. OFFICIALS INSISTED THAT NO CHEMICAL WEAPONS WERE PRODUCED AT THE COMPLEX.

IN A SEPARATE DEVELOPMENT YUGOSLAVIA’S TOP GENERAL IN KOSOVO PROVINCE SAID HE HAD 150-THOUSAND MEN UNDER ARMS READY TO COUNTER A GROUND INVASION BY NATO TROOPS.

MAJOR GENERAL NEBOJSA PAVKOVIC SAID MORALE AMONG HIS TROOPS WAS HIGHER THAN EVER AND NATO WOULD PAY A HIGH PRICE IF IT CROSSED THE BORDER. THE GENERAL ALSO SAID BELGRADE WAS READY FOR POLITICAL NEGOTIATIONS IF NATO FIRST STOPPED ITS OFFENSIVE.

BELGRADE ALSO CAME UNDER ATTACK LATE SATURDAY. RESIDENTS SAY A THREE-YEAR-OLD GIRL WAS KILLED IN HER VILLAGE CLOSE TO THE MILITARY AIRPORT ON THE OUTSKIRTS OF THE CAPITAL.

THERE IS ANGER ON THE STREETS OF BELGRADE AT THE MOUNTING CIVILIAN CASUALTIES INFLICTED BY NATO. BUT THERE IS ALSO A FEELING AMONG SOME SERBS THAT THE TIME HAS COME FOR YUGOSLAV PRESIDENT SLOBODAN MILOSEVIC TO MAKE A DEAL OVER KOSOVO AND END THE WAR. (SIGNED)
NEB/GD/RAE
18-Apr-99 2:50 PM EDT (1850 UTC)
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Source: Voice of America

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