More explosions in Yugoslavia; civilian casualties reported
April 5, 1999
BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (CNN) -- As NATO stepped up relief efforts for masses of refugees huddled at Kosovo's borders, its military took advantage of clearer weather to widen attacks on Yugoslav infrastructure.
But CNN's Brent Sadler indicated some of the strikes may have gone astray, with two large explosions tearing through apartment blocks and what appeared to be civilian homes in the town of Aleksinac, about 100 miles south of Belgrade.
Sadler, reporting from the scene, said elderly men and women were casualties -- and that one woman described saving two of her children while having to leave other family members beneath rubble.
Fire crews were trying to put out blazes at gutted apartment blocks, Sadler said. He said at least four people were killed and a medical clinic used by civilians was hit.
"I think what I'm seeing here is the largest civilian casualty toll since the beginning of NATO airstrikes," Sadler said. "I saw quite clearly that these were civilian homes. ... I saw body parts inside these buildings."
In Belgrade, a loud explosion jolted the Yugoslav capital in the early hours Tuesday, CNN's Alessio Vinci said.
NATO airstrikes also hit an oil refinery in Yugoslavia's second-largest city, Novi Sad, late Monday, sources told CNN. Serbian television showed a huge explosion illuminating the city with a bright orange fireball.
Novi Sad, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) north of Belgrade, has come under repeated attack in recent days, suffering serious damage to its two main bridges across the Danube river.
Serbian television also said blasts rocked Sombor, a city about 95 miles northwest of the Yugoslav capital.
NATO said it was planning a "humanitarian air bridge" of relief flights, hauling 200 tons of food and other emergency supplies to Albania and Macedonia.
U.S. President Bill Clinton approved a request from Macedonia for an additional 600,000 packages of rations to feed an estimated 85,000 refugees camped near its border with Yugoslavia. Some 500,000 rations are already on their way to the overwhelmed nation.
Germany, the United States, Turkey, Canada, Norway, Sweden and Greece have announced they will take in more than 100,000 ethnic Albanians to ease the growing refugee burden on the region.
In Brussels on Monday, the North Atlantic Council voted to formally ask Albania to allow a contingent of 24 Apache attack helicopters, anti-personnel missile systems and 2,000 U.S. troops to be based on its territory. The Albanian government accepted the request.
NATO said it had escalated its air campaign against Serb military targets in Yugoslavia and was "causing pain" to forces which were continuing their crackdown against ethnic Albanians in Kosovo with their "customary brutality."
NATO military spokesman Air Commodore David Wilby told a news conference at alliance headquarters in Brussels that targets hit by NATO included "petroleum production and storage (facilities), air fields, air defenses, ammunition storage and bridges."
NATO also hit what it said was an important headquarters of the Yugoslav armed forces in the Yugoslav capital Belgrade.
"We will capitalize on the clear weather" to particularly target Serb army and police forces on the ground in Kosovo, Wilby said.
NATO: Strategy paying off
He said NATO's strategy of going after the Serb forces in the field was paying off, and airstrikes were clearly damaging Serb forces and their heavy armor.
"We are just starting to hit field forces as the weather has just given us the chance to attack them," Wilby said. "We have ratcheted up the number of sorties we are doing. I think you will find good results coming in shortly."
He said damage to the field units was difficult to discern without a trained eye and the necessary equipment but added: "We are hitting the field guns very hard and we are having direct evidence that we are causing pain."
Wilby provided photographic evidence which he said clearly showed how Serb forces had rounded up and expelled the population of one village and later set the houses on fire.
"The forced expulsion of the ethnic Albanians from their homes ... and their deportation has not stopped," he said.
Serbia says more civilian targets hit
Serbian television showed pictures of burning buildings and a hospital ward reportedly filled with victims after missiles pounded targets in Belgrade's northern district of Zemun.
The city's water system was damaged in the attack, according to the television report, and a missile hit the city's civilian airport.
Montenegro Radio said 11 people were wounded in one of the NATO strikes on the Yugoslav Army's Ibarski Rudari barracks at Raska in southern Serbia.
The Belgrade-based Beta news agency reported NATO missiles also had hit the headquarters of Yugoslavia's 3rd Army command in the major southeastern Serbian town of Nis.
Beta also quoted Radio Nis as saying that military targets in the town's industrial zone had been hit in the overnight attacks, causing a fire that spread to a tobacco warehouse.
A Belgrade resident said a series of explosions was also heard in the city's eastern neighborhood of Zvezdara.
"The force of the explosions shook the windows of my house," he said, adding that flames were visible in a nearby forest where a training school and barracks of the special police forces are located.
Belgrade has become a major target for NATO air raids in recent days after the alliance announced plans to intensify its campaign against Yugoslavia.
The Belgrade-based Tanjug news agency said Slatina airfield southeast of the Kosovo provincial capital Pristina had also been attacked.
Rugova meets Russian ambassador
Serbian television on Monday also showed pictures of a meeting in Pristina between the moderate Kosovar ethnic Albanian leader Ibrahim Rugova and the Russian ambassador to Yugoslavia.
The Russian Foreign Ministry confirmed the meeting between Rugova and Ambassador Yuri Kotov, and a spokesman described it as a "good meeting."
The spokesman said Russia was "assessing what new steps are necessary" to bring about a resolution of the conflict in Yugoslavia.
Moscow has strongly criticized the NATO airstrikes and repeatedly called for a negotiated solution to the Kosovo crisis, which Russia sees as a domestic conflict.
Annan condemns 'shocking violations' in Kosovo
The U.N. Security Council expressed "deepest concern at the grave humanitarian situation" created by the refugee exodus from Kosovo.
In a statement, the council called on those who are able to provide aid to the needy, "wherever they may be."
But the divided council steered clear of blaming any party for the crisis. Russia and China have strongly criticized NATO's airstrikes and called for a halt to military action.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, however, pointedly accused Serb forces of "shocking violations of human rights."
"Yet again, we face the abominable practice of 'ethnic cleansing' only a few years after it transformed the demography of Bosnia and Herzegovina," Annan said in a statement. "The Serbian authorities must halt such actions."
Support for ground troops swells in Congress
Extensive list of Kosovo-related sites
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