Yugoslav health official says NATO airstrikes causing hardship
Attacks continue despite prisoner release
May 3, 1999
BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (CNN) -- One day after Yugoslavia's release of three captured U.S. soldiers, NATO airstrikes knocked out power to much of Serbia, and a top Yugoslav official indicated that the strikes are causing hardship throughout Yugoslavia.
Sounding fatigued and upset, Health Minister Leposava Milicevic told CNN in a telephone interview broadcast live that many hospitals had lost power and were functioning on backup generators which could fail within hours, affecting hospitalized patients, including infants in incubators.
"We have a very great problem with supplying water," she said. "The supplying is not possible without electricity." Leposava said she expected the power difficulties to be resolved, but added that "We also expect new attacks" from NATO.
"We have bombing every night, every day -- permanently," she said. "They hit the fuel, they hit everything we need to distribute the food -- everything the refugees need."
Leposava said Yugoslavia has 700,000 refugees within its borders from various regions but added that "You are caring just about Albanian refugees. You are not caring about other refugees."
Some 520 Yugoslav civilians have been killed by NATO bombing raids, she said. That figure has not been confirmed by NATO or Pentagon officials. Nor was there independent confirmation of the effect of the airstrikes on Yugoslav distribution systems or its medical facilities.
NATO did, however, on Monday confirm striking power plants in Serbia, including a facility near Belgrade. CNN's Brent Sadler, reporting from the Yugoslav capital, said "Belgrade is now in darkness for as far as the eye can see." Officials later reported that power was partly restored.
NATO bombs damaged a power plant in Kostolac, 25 miles (40 km) southeast of Belgrade along the Danube River, which supplies electricity to all subsidiary power plants across Serbia.
An official government source said NATO planes also hit a plant in the southern city of Nis and another in Obrenovac, about 18 miles (30 km) west of Belgrade.
State-owned Serbian television, a repeated target of NATO airstrikes, went off the air around 9:45 p.m. (3:45 p.m. ET), as did all other television and radio stations.
Hundreds of sorties
The overnight strikes represented an intensified campaign against Yugoslavia, CNN's Jonathan Karl reported. He said that over a 24-hour period, 600 sorties were flown.
NATO and Pentagon officials said questions about attacks on the power supply would be taken at a Monday morning briefing.
Earlier Sunday, U.S. and alliance officials said that, despite the release of three U.S. soldiers who had been held in Yugoslav captivity for more than a month, air attacks against the country would continue unabated.
Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic must fully accept NATO conditions for a resolution to the civil conflict in Kosovo between separatist ethnic Albanians and Serbian forces before the alliance halts the airstrikes, the officials said.
"As we welcome our soldiers home, our thoughts also turn to the over 1 million Kosovars who are unable to go home because of the policies of the regime in Belgrade," U.S. President Clinton said in a statement.
Defense Secretary William Cohen said he keeps in mind that up to 4,000 Kosovar Albanians "have been executed in a mass fashion" in Yugoslavia.
Jesse Jackson departs Germany
Rev. Jesse Jackson, whose personal mission to Belgrade won freedom for the three prisoners, planned early Monday to depart Germany, where the three were undergoing physical and psychological tests -- and receiving visits from a steady stream of colleagues.
Family members were traveling to Germany to see the three soldiers -- some arrived early Monday. President Clinton was expected to visit the soldiers on Wednesday.
In the meantime, Jackson told CNN he was to meet with Clinton in Washington later on Monday, when he planned to deliver a letter from Milosevic. The White House did not confirm any details of a visit by Jackson early Monday.
Jackson, who gained the release of Staff Sgt. Andrew Ramirez, 24, of Los Angeles; Staff Sgt. Christopher Stone, 25, of Smiths Creek, Michigan; and Spc. Steven Gonzales, 22, of Huntsville, Texas, has been pressing for a halt to the Yugoslav bombing campaign and a return to negotiation. However, NATO officials have said that will not happen unless Milosevic agrees to withdraw stroops from the Serbian province of Kosovo and allow ethnic Albanians to return under self-rule with the protection of a NATO-led peacekeeping force.
Clinton is also being pressed by Russia to negotiate an end to the conflict over Kosovo. Former Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin will meet Monday with Clinton and Vice President Al Gore, a presidential spokesman said.
CNN's Betsy Aaron in Moscow said the visit is timed to take advantage of a diplomatic initiative which includes the prisoner release.
Plane crashes signal intensified campaign
The intensified campaign, which includes Monday's airstrikes, could pose dangers for a growing number of NATO-allied pilots.
NATO on Sunday reported that it had lost two U.S. aircraft in its Kosovo air campaign overnight Saturday.
An F-16 crashed about 18 kilometers (11 miles) east of the Serbian town of Kozluk early Sunday, NATO spokesman Jamie Shea said. The plane was returning from a combat mission in Yugoslavia.
"The pilot ejected at around 2:20 a.m. (1200 GMT) this morning, and he was rescued by NATO forces two hours later," Shea said. "He is safely back at his operating base, where he is receiving medical attention and being debriefed on the incident."
Serbian air defense officials said they shot down the F-16, but NATO military spokesman Col. Konrad Freytag said the jet crashed after experiencing engine failure. He said the cause of the engine failure was unknown.
The second plane lost was a Harrier jump jet, which crashed into the Adriatic Sea while returning to the amphibious assault carrier USS Kearsarge from a training mission. Its pilot was also rescued, Shea said.
Previously, NATO lost an F-117 stealth fighter, which went down in Serbia on March 27; and an Apache helicopter, which crashed while training in Albania last month. Four pilotless "drones" also have been lost.
NATO admits civilian bus strike
NATO also said early Sunday that one of its attacks hit a civilian bus crossing a bridge near Luzane, north of Kosovo's capital, Pristina. NATO says the bridge was "used extensively by the Serb armed forces."
Some Serb and witness reports said at least 34 people died in the attack. Milicevic said 47 were killed.
"The pilot released the weapon, and only after he released the weapon did the bus come on the bridge," Shea said. "We will continue to do everything we can to try and avoid those kinds of incidents. We can't eliminate them altogether."
The bus was sliced in half by the attack and caught fire. Half of it remained on the bridge, while the other half plunged 13 meters (40 feet) over the edge. The bridge remained standing.
Reporters brought to the scene said they saw bodies and body parts strewn around the scene.
Macedonia refugee plight worsens
In Macedonia, an estimated 5,000 refugees streamed across the border within the past day, officials told CNN.
At least 80,000 are squeezed into refugee camps with hopelessly inadequate facilities, they said. For some of the new arrivals, a piece of plastic is all they can expect for living quarters, as relief officials are unable to house nearly half the newcomers.
Macedonian Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski, touring a border camp Sunday, expressed concern that his country had "not received one dollar" from the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.
Four hundred of the refugees are expected to leave Tuesday to fly to the United States, which has agreed to temporarily house 20,000 Kosovars during the conflict. They will be processed for several weeks at Fort Dix, New Jersey.
In Albania, new refugees from Kosovo say Serb police are detaining women and children, possibly using them to serve as human shields.
One refugee from the border town of Prizen said, "It's totally panicky in the city. They're taking people as hostages."
Reports of intense KLA, Serb combat
In Southwest Kosovo, there were reports of heavy fighting between separatist ethnic Albanians and Serbian military forces.
Rebels with the Kosovo Liberation Army have engaged in a major offensive to open a corridor and unite with other KLA forces farther in the interior of the province, Turkish journalist Mithat Bereket told CNN.
The Serbian military answered with heavy artillery and tanks, he said.
Bereket said there were indications that the Serbian army was suffering from low morale and a high rate of desertions.
He said there were reports that Serbian soldiers were making 15- to 50-year-old Kosovar Albanians set up mines, dig trenches against tanks and give blood to prepare for a ground offensive.
NATO airstrikes press on despite prisoner release
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