NATO bomb reportedly damages hospital, ambassadors' homes
May 20, 1999
BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (CNN) -- Yugoslav officials said a NATO bomb killed at least three people at a hospital in Belgrade Thursday and damaged the residences of the Norwegian, Spanish and Swedish ambassadors.
NATO said one of its laser-guided bombs -- meant for an army barracks -- overshot its target by about 1,500 feet (460 meters). NATO officials said they were investigating the incident, but would not say what the bomb hit.
"When we are sure what happened, we will tell you what happened," NATO spokesman Jamie Shea told reporters in Brussels, Belgium, the alliance's headquarters.
Meanwhile, Britain said Thursday it will withdraw its aircraft carrier from the NATO fleet off Yugoslavia and replace its largely defensive air wing with more strike aircraft.
Serbia's government health minister, Leposava Milicevic, said three patients were killed when a hospital was hit. Yugoslav officials took reporters to view the damage in the affluent Belgrade district of Dedinje, where they were met by a chorus of protesters shouting "Stop the bombing now."
The bomb left a crater four meters (13 feet) wide, next to what officials said was a hospital with a gynecology and obstetrics building nearby. It was the only site the news media was taken to see.
The raids were the closest to Belgrade's city center since the May 8 attack that devastated the Chinese Embassy. Thursday's strikes also damaged the homes of the ambassadors of NATO members Norway and Spain, while neutral Sweden called the damage to its ambassador's residence "unacceptable."
Swedish Foreign Minister Anna Lindh criticized NATO for using such high explosives in a raid on a populated area and said the attack underscored the need for a political solution to the conflict.
But Shea said the Swedish government still supports the NATO effort despite that criticism, and he said NATO has taken great pains to avoid civilian casualties and damage.
"We will continue to take every precaution we can to hit the military target and nothing but the military target," he said.
A spokeswoman for Lindh said the United States apologized to Sweden for the damage to the home of its ambassador Mats Staffansson, who was uninjured.
Other NATO strikes hit targets around Serbia and the Serbian province of Kosovo, including airfields in Pristina, Kosovo's capital, and Batajnica; a radio relay site at Loznica, and military communications stations in Belgrade and Stara Pazova, and radio broadcast facilities at Serbovan, Subotica and Kula.
Amid the new raids, Britain announced it was pulling the carrier HMS Invincible out of the Adriatic Sea and bringing the ship home. Fighters flying from Invincible have spent much of the NATO air war in a defensive role, as protection against Yugoslav fighters that have rarely risen to challenge the allied assault.
"There will not be a direct replacement, nor will one be needed as the number of flights from her has steadily decreased," Defense Secretary George Robertson said.
Britain moved the ship into the Adriatic in early April, where it joined U.S. and French carriers as part of the NATO strike force.
"NATO needed additional fighter assets so that other fast jet aircraft could be re-roled from air defense to bombing missions," said Air Marshal John Day, Britain's deputy chief of staff.
The increasing tempo of NATO's air war against Yugoslavia now requires attack planes more than fighter jets to protect them from Yugoslav air defenses, Day said.
Britain will move 12 Tornado attack jets from bases in Germany to the French island of Corsica in the Mediterranean. That move will allow the planes to fly more frequent raids against Yugoslavia, he said.
In addition, Britain will move the helicopter training ship HMS Argus into the Adriatic. Its complement of helicopters will allow it both to aid the relief efforts for Kosovo refugees in Yugoslavia's neighboring countries and assist the oil embargo against Yugoslavia by monitoring shipping lanes, Robertson said.
Both Shea and U.S. President Bill Clinton pointed to reports of Yugoslav desertions and unrest inside the country as a sign that the NATO air war, which began March 24, was taking its toll on the country.
NATO's war in the Balkans is aimed at forcing Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to sign a peace agreement for Kosovo that would allow the return of hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanians, with their security backed by an international peacekeeping force.
"Each day we hear reports of desertions in the Serbian army, dissension in Belgrade, unrest in Serbian communities," Clinton said. "President Milosevic should know that he cannot change the fundamental terms that we have outlined, because they are simply what is required for the Kosovars to go home and live in peace."
Shea said whole battalions of Yugoslav troops in Kosovo have deserted and returned to their homes. In Krusevac, families have demonstrated successfully for the return of their relatives from the army in Kosovo.
In addition, Shea said, Belgrade has become a haven for young men hiding from the military draft. Yugoslav officials are reportedly conscripting men in their 50s in order to fill the ranks, he said.
In addition, a Montenegrin newspaper reported Thursday that several hundred Yugoslav army reservists deserted Kosovo and returned to their hometowns in Serbia, demanding an end to the war. About 400 soldiers arrived Wednesday in the southern city of Aleksandrovac, their hometown, claiming they will not go back to the front, the daily Vijesti reported.
Correspondent Walter Rodgers contributed to this report.
Yugoslavia says Belgrade strike kills 3 in hospital
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