Montenegro endures heaviest bombardment yet; hit reported on Bulgaria
April 29, 1999
BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (CNN) -- Neutral Montenegro was rocked by NATO air attacks Thursday in a focused bombardment that hit the Yugoslav republic's capital of Podgorica three times in 12 hours.
Montenegro has been targeted before during the NATO assault, but the smaller of Yugoslavia's two republics was hit harder on Wednesday night and Thursday morning than in past attacks.
Montenegro has declared itself neutral in the war between Yugoslavia and NATO, but NATO officials say it must be targeted because Yugoslav military installations are housed in the republic.
Montenegro's President Milo Djukanovic, denounced the attacks but blamed Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic for starting the hostilities.
The latest strikes came amid reports from Bulgaria's state news agency that a missile hit a house near the capital, Sofia, late Wednesday.
Authorities were scrambling Thursday to determine who fired the missile. No injuries were reported and NATO is investigating.
Attacks were also launched on the Yugoslav capital of Belgrade Thursday as NATO cited the dismissal of Yugoslavia's deputy premier as proof that dissent was growing within the Yugoslav government.
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.
Serbian media reported that two bridges over the Sava River were destroyed in Ostruznica, southwest of Belgrade.
Other strikes reportedly targeted including an oil refinery in Yugoslavia's second biggest city, Novi Sad.
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.
"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.
A NATO official confirmed an airfield had been targeted in Montenegro because of fears Yugoslav aircraft based there posed a threat.
The official said improving weather conditions allowed stepped up attacks compared to recent nights.
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.
And in a new development Thursday, Russia's Interfax news agency reported that Russia's Balkans envoy Viktor Chernomyrdin had "concrete proposals" to end the fighting. It did not give details.
Chernomyrdin left Thursday for meetings in Bonn, Rome and Belgrade. He had earlier met with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan in Moscow.
Annan is scheduled to hold talks Thursday with Russian President Boris Yeltsin. Russia is leading a flurry of diplomatic activity this week focused on finding a resolution for the Kosovo crisis.
In Washington, President Bill Clinton met with a large delegation of congressional leaders Wednesday, urging them to be patient with NATO's air campaign. And aides said the president is signaling the airstrikes could continue through the summer.
"Historically, the weather is better in May than in April, better in June than in May, better in July than in June," Clinton said.
White House officials also said the president plans to travel to Germany next Tuesday to meet with U.S. troops supporting Operation Allied Force.
On Capitol Hill, the House of Representatives, with dozens of Democratic votes, easily passed the Republican-backed resolution that requires Clinton to seek Congressional approval for ground troop authorization in the Kosovo conflict.
'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 had 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.
'Serbia will continue to fight'
In the wake of Draskovic's firing, three members of his political party -- the nationalist Serbian Renewal Movement -- resigned from the Yugoslav cabinet as well, Sadler reported.
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."
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.
Jesse Jackson in bid to free POWs
On another front, a delegation of U.S. religious leaders, led by Rev. Jesse Jackson, left Wednesday on a mission to Yugoslavia to visit the three captured U.S. soldiers and meet with Slobodan Milosevic to try to secure their release.
"We want to do more than see them and take the messages from their relatives from who we have talked. We want to gain their freedom," Jackson said.
Jackson made his comments after his delegation met with Clinton's national security team, but did not gain the administration's support of the visit.
"If the trip was sanctioned by the president, it would be defeated before we leave," Jackson 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.
Correspondents Mike Hanna, Brent Sadler, Alessio Vinci, Steve Harrigan and Jonathan Karl contributed to this report.
New refugees describe forced evacuation, possible massacre
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