NATO renews heavy bombardment of Montenegro
Yugoslav deputy premier fired for criticism
April 28, 1999
BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (CNN) -- Citing the dismissal of Yugoslavia's deputy premier as proof that dissent is growing within the Yugoslav government, NATO forces pounded the outskirts of Belgrade early Thursday and launched a powerful attack on the Montenegrin capital of Podgorica.
A series of explosions rattled an area near Belgrade as anti-aircraft fire ripped into the sky. Independent radio station Studio B said a military barracks about 4 miles (7 kilometers) outside the city center was struck.
A massive, yellow glow lit up the sky in Podgorica and explosions were heard to the south of the city in the direction of a military and civilian airport, marking the second attack on the facility in less than 12 hours.
"It was an exceedingly intense attack," CNN's Mike Hanna said from Podgorica. "This has certainly been the heaviest NATO attack on Montenegro since the beginning of the conflict."
Earlier Wednesday, two large explosions thundered through the Podgorica airport and a large plume of smoke was seen rising into the air. In addition, witnesses said that an aircraft storage facility had been hit.
The airport has been struck in the past because NATO said Yugoslav planes had been launched from there to attack ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.
Although Montenegro is part of Yugoslavia, the republic's pro-Western government has sought to distance itself from Belgrade and refused to accept a nationwide state of war declared by the federal Yugoslav government.
'Voice of reason has been silenced'
Vuk Draskovic, the Yugoslav deputy premier who recently raised eyebrows with blunt criticism of Yugoslavia's president, was fired Wednesday even as NATO officials praised his outspokenness.
"My voice of reason has now been silenced," Draskovic told CNN's Brent Sadler.
Draskovic told Sadler shortly after his dismissal that he believed he had been speaking for the government of President Slobodan Milosevic when he said it should make a deal to end the NATO bombing.
Yugoslavia must be prepared to "accept a U.N. mission under the flag of U.N. international forces here for establishing and protecting the peace in Kosovo," Draskovic told CNN on Monday.
Draskovic also said that the federal government should "stop lying" about the military and humanitarian situation in Yugoslavia.
His ouster signaled the victory of hard-liners who support Milosevic, Draskovic said.
The longtime maverick politician said he would return to his role as an opposition leader.
Just before Draskovic's firing, NATO spokesman Jamie Shea said in Brussels that "green shoots of democratic recovery" were showing up in Yugoslavia -- an assertion he backed up by citing statements by Draskovic and other Serb politicians.
"They do suggest that some people are beginning to look for an exit strategy, that they need a way out, and that, therefore, they have had time to recognize the reality and cooperate with the international community," Shea said.
'Serbia will continue to fight'
In recent days, Draskovic has said that the federal government should "stop lying" about the state of the NATO bombing campaign against Yugoslavia. In the wake of his firing, three members of Draskovic's political party -- the nationalist Serbian Renewal Movement -- resigned from the Yugoslav cabinet as well, Sadler reported.
U.S. President Bill Clinton said he "should not comment" on the shakeup within the Yugoslav leadership. But other U.S. and NATO officials said Draskovic's firing was another sign that Milosevic has no tolerance for dissent within his government.
"Draskovic's ouster is a sign of complete contempt by President Milosevic for those who speak the truth," State Department spokesman James Rubin said.
Though Draskovic has run afoul of Milosevic, he remained critical of NATO on Wednesday.
"NATO is the aggressor, killer of my nation and my state," Draskovic said. "Serbia will continue to fight against aggression to defend our country and national unity against (the) aggression of NATO countries."
Shea said the 52-year-old Draskovic "has not exactly been a friend of NATO in the past, and he does bear some responsibility for stirring up nationalism in Yugoslavia."
And a Serb opposition leader, Zoran Djindjic, told Austrian television that Draskovic had no real clout in his three months in government and his dismissal is "no way a sign of a rift in the Yugoslav government."
Solana hints at diplomatic progress
Draskovic's dismissal came as NATO's secretary-general hinted that diplomatic efforts to bring peace to Yugoslavia could yield positive results.
"We still have points on which we are separated, but we are making progress," NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana said Wednesday, before the news broke of Draskovic's firing.
Diplomatic efforts are under way among NATO governments and Russia to find a political solution to the Kosovo crisis and the month-long NATO air war it spawned, Solana said.
NATO is demanding that the Yugoslav government pull its troops out of Kosovo, grant autonomy to the ethnic Albanian majority in that Serbian province and allow international troops to enforce an end to fighting between Serb forces and ethnic Albanians.
U.S. envoy Strobe Talbott met with Russian leaders, including special envoy Viktor Chernomyrdin, in Moscow Tuesday. Talbott said there was no indication that Belgrade was willing to meet NATO demands for ending the bombing campaign.
Annan: 'We are in early stages'
Talbott was scheduled to brief U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who was in Bonn for talks with European Union and German officials while en route to Moscow.
Annan said Wednesday that the Russians have played a "constructive and useful role" in trying to settle the crisis. But he warned against any hope of a quick solution.
"We are in the early stages here, and I would not want anyone to have unrealistic expectations as to the immediate or instant success," he said.
Milosevic has rejected the idea of an armed international force on Serbian soil, and refuses to resume talks on the Kosovo issue until the NATO bombing campaign stops.
Shea reiterated on Wednesday that the alliance will not compromise on its demands. "That would lead to a messier arrangement that Milosevic would try to undermine," he said.
NATO reviewing plans to stop Yugoslavia oil imports
The staff of NATO Supreme Allied Commander Gen. Wesley Clark, presented its recommendation Wednesday on the "visit and search" of ships in the Adriatic headed for Yugoslavia, according to NATO military and diplomatic sources.
NATO and the European Union have agreed on the need to stop deliveries of oil to Yugoslavia, but some nations disagree on what to do if a ship fails to comply.
France, Italy and Greece have expressed reservations about the legal justification for searching ships at sea. The French have said a forced search of ships would be tantamount to "an act of war on the high seas."
NATO military planners have completed an operational study on how to establish and enforce a "visit and search" policy. NATO members are expected to give their response to the study by Thursday.
Britain sorry for civilian deaths
Meanwhile, Britain's defense secretary expressed regret Wednesday for a stray bomb that Yugoslavia said killed at least 20 people in the Serbian village of Surdulica.
NATO has admitted that one of its bombs -- meant for an army barracks in the town, about 320 kilometers (200 miles) south of Belgrade -- missed its target and hit a residential area about noon Tuesday (6 a.m. EDT). At least 11 of the dead were children, Serb authorities said.
"NATO makes every effort possible to avoid civilian casualties, and in more than 4,400 attacks by NATO, only a tiny fraction have led to unintended consequences, including the loss of civilian lives," said Defense Secretary George Robertson.
A NATO source said the laser-guided bomb missed its target by about 500 yards when smoke from a previous strike muddled its guidance system. The airstrike nevertheless succeeded in destroying the barracks, Robertson said.
Despite Tuesday's deaths, the number of civilians killed by NATO air raids is dwarfed by the scale of the humanitarian crisis faced by ethnic Albanian refugees from Kosovo, Robertson said.
He dared Milosevic to allow international television crews unrestricted travel throughout the country, as well as the ability to air their footage within Yugoslavia.
Correspondents Mike Hanna, Brent Sadler, Alessio Vinci, Nic Robertson, Richard Roth and Andrea Koppel contributed to this report.
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