Belgrade burns, NATO bombardment heaviest yet
April 30, 1999
BELGRADE (CNN) -- NATO early Friday unleashed the heaviest bombardment on central Belgrade since Operation Allied Force began, torching the main Yugoslav army headquarters and other targets that drive the country's military machine.
Authorities also said two houses and a restaurant in a civilian neighborhood were damaged. CNN's Brent Sadler toured the area immediately after the bombing and reported "considerable" damage in what appeared to be the first destruction of civilian property in Belgrade.
The attacks also occurred hours before the arrival of Russian special envoy Viktor Chernomyrdin, who was being sent to Belgrade with new "concrete proposals" for a compromise end the conflict.
A series of explosions roused the capital in the early hours, sending bright orange flames and thick smoke high into the sky above Belgrade.
Residents said the Yugoslav army headquarters was ablaze and that nearby buildings, including the Yugoslav Foreign Ministry, were damaged. Police and emergency officials were on the scene. Witnesses also said the Serbian defense headquarters was targeted.
Parts of the city were without power. Studio B, one of the major commercial television stations located a few hundred yards from the army headquarters, went off the air soon after the explosions.
Studio B later resumed broadcasts and reported that the Yugoslav Federal Police building, across from the army headquarters, was hit. The report said a Studio B transmitter, just outside of Belgrade, was struck.
The independent Yugoslav Beta news agency also said the army headquarters was ablaze.
NATO Friday confirmed at least one missile went astray and hit a residential area of Belgrade and was checking reports that another missile may also have run off course.
A NATO official also confirmed the alliance targeted an oil refinery in Novi Sad, an air field in Pristina--the capital of Kosovo, an airfield in Batajnica and another airfield in Ponikve.
NATO also said it targeted several radio relays, a munitions plant in Valjevo and Serb field forces in Kosovo.
In addition, NATO confirmed it hit five targets in downtown Belgrade: Yugoslav Army headquarters, two Ministry of Defense buildings, and two buildings housing Special Police--one for the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the other for Serbia.
In the Belgrade neighborhood of Vracar, authorities said two NATO weapons destroyed two houses and a restaurant. There was no immediate report of casualties.
"I can see a lot of debris, a lot of rubble in what is a civilian area," Sadler said. "There is a considerable amount of damage."
A NATO official told CNN Friday the alliance did "not target the Serbian population, we put all our efforts in target planning and execution of the missions to avoid collateral damage."
However, the official confirmed hitting military targets in Belgrade including the Defense Ministry, Yugoslav army headquarters and a police building. Elsewhere in the country, NATO claimed to have hit an oil refinery, airfields and Serb troops.
The attacks ushered in the 38th day of NATO's Operation Allied Force.
Earthquake rocks Belgrade
In another development, soon after the intense early morning raids, Sadler said an earthquake was felt in the capital. Belgrade Radio said a magnitude 5.5 quake shook the region, with its epicenter about 40 miles (60 km) south of Belgrade.
Late Thursday, three blasts rocked Belgrade and knocked Serbian TV off the air after an attack on a transmitter on Mount Avala, south of the capital.
Serbian television resumed broadcasts, but then went dark again during the pre-dawn attacks, just after finishing a newscast.
Jackson and his delegation of American religious leaders were in Belgrade during the attacks. They arrived late Thursday and checked into their rooms at a hotel in central Belgrade.
Jackson is expected to meet with the three U.S. soldiers, who were taken captive in late March, to try to secure their release.
Russia plays peacemaker
With Chernomyrdin's visit to Belgrade, Russia is pushing ahead with diplomatic efforts to find a way to end the air strikes.
Before leaving for Yugoslavia, Chernomyrdin, the former Russian premier, said before any peace plan could go forward, NATO's air attacks must be suspended. He did not discuss what proposal he was bringing to the table.
On Thursday, Chernomyrdin met with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder in Bonn, and Schroeder indicated that a pause in the bombing might be possible if Belgrade agrees to one of NATO's key demands -- that Serb military and police forces withdraw from Kosovo.
If a withdrawal of Serb forces could be guaranteed, "it is reasonable to think about the limited suspension of air strikes," said Schroeder, who is also president of the European Union.
Chernomyrdin said that Yugoslavia is moving toward accepting the safe return of Kosovar refugees and had agreed "to an international presence (in Kosovo) under the aegis of the United Nations and this is a big step forward -- with Russian participation in particular. This is the first step that gives us hope."
U.S. Vice President Al Gore spoke with Chernomyrdin after his meeting with Schroeder, encouraging the envoy's diplomatic efforts to end the conflict, saying Russia could have a significant role in an international security force, U.S. officials told CNN.
The White House had no official comment on the Chernomyrdin trip, saying it did not want to "upend" the effort.
In Moscow, after meeting with Russian leaders, including President Boris Yeltsin, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said, "It is also encouraging that the leaders and countries around the world have concluded that whatever solution one finds must be legitimized through the Security Council."
In another development, a U.S. congressional delegation headed by Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Pennsylvania), prepared to leave Washington for meetings with members of the Russian parliament -- the Duma -- in Vienna to discuss possible ways to end the crisis.
A press release from Weldon's office said he was approached by members of the Duma two weeks ago about working to find "possible ways to resolve the crisis in Kosovo that both the United States and Russia could agree to."
'Dumb' bombs to be used
At the Pentagon, Defense Secretary William Cohen said the air campaign had some time to go and announced that 10 more B-52s are being deployed to Europe for Operation Allied Force.
Sources told CNN that, unlike current B-52s being used in the operation, the new set of bombers will be used for "carpet- bombing" runs in which 500-pound "dumb" bombs are dropped in sweeps.
"We will start to attack for more hours, more targets and from more directions," Cohen said.
Cohen also said while the details of interdicting tankers bringing oil to Yugoslavia through Montenegro's port have not been worked out, such an attempt could be considered armed hostility.
"There will be serious consequences ... if a third country openly and flagrantly supplies energy to a regime that has engaged in this kind of brutal behavior," he said
Correspondents Brent Sadler, Patty Davis, Nic Robertson and Mike Hanna contributed to this report.
Jesse Jackson to meet captured U.S. soldiers in Yugoslavia
Extensive list of Kosovo-related sites:
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