Serbs report civilian deaths in NATO bridge attack
May 31, 1999
BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (CNN) -- As Serbs celebrated the third most holy day in the Eastern Orthodox calendar, NATO bombing in Yugoslavia intensified on Sunday, reportedly killing numerous civilians when missiles hit a bridge in central Serbia.
Local authorities said 12 people died in the attack near the town of Krusevac. Tanjug, the official Yugoslav news agency, reported that 11 were killed and 40 injured when three NATO missiles hit the bridge, which was crowded with vehicles and pedestrians.
NATO officials confirmed that alliance warplanes struck a bridge crossing the Velika Morava River near Krisevac on Sunday. They described the structure as a "legitimate military target."
A Serbian Web site reported that at least one civilian in the Serbian town of Vranje was killed in a NATO attack and another civilian was seriously wounded.
Belgrade was reportedly heavily hit again, with air activity over New Belgrade, Rakovica, Lipovicka Forest, Ostruznica and Makis.
Serb television showed smoke coming from an area believed to be Bubanj Potok, east of Belgrade. Four missiles reportedly hit a television transmitter near Dimitrovgrad in the Yugoslav republic of Montenegro.
Despite the attacks, Orthodox Christians in Serbia celebrated Dukhovi, honoring the dead by lighting candles and placing gifts at graves. Some hung wreaths on their doors, hoping to ward off bombs.
Amid increasing reports of civilian casualties, NATO's top military commander, Gen. Wesley Clark, said the alliance was operating under tight rules of engagement, targeting military sites and not civilians.
"We know which villages are occupied. We know which are not, and we're going exclusively after military targets. We would never do it any other way," Clark said on CNN's "Late Edition."
Alliance air power again hammered away at Yugoslavia Saturday night into Sunday morning, flying 697 sorties and scoring 309 strikes during the 68th day of attacks, according to NATO.
NATO military spokesman Maj. Gen. Walter Jertz said continued good weather helped maintain the increased number and effectiveness of the mission.
"We have severed their primary lines of communication, so Serb forces are having to use temporary bridges and other work-arounds," he said at a NATO briefing.
Jertz said there were indications that Yugoslav military units were on the move.
"We have reports of relocation and replacement of artillery units, in particular the 203rd battalion operating northwest of Nis, an indication that NATO air force has struck those forces successfully in the past," he said.
NATO spokesman Jamie Shea denied a published report in London that the alliance would consider introducing ground troops into the campaign if it had not succeeded by mid-June.
"I think we are talking about the success of the air campaign, not the defeat of the air campaign," he said.
Shea welcomed Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's reported acceptance in principle of conditions to end the bombing set forth by the G-8 nations, the seven leading industrial countries and Russia. But NATO remained wary.
"Details are very important here," Shea said. "Anything that means that Belgrade moves towards those five (NATO) conditions is something that we will welcome, but at the same time we will remain cautious, because details in this business are everything."
Finnish President Marrti Ahtisaari, who serves as the European Union envoy to Yugoslavia and accompanied Russian envoy Viktor Chernomyrdin to Belgrade last week, said a Kosovo peacekeeping operation would be similar to another in the Balkans.
"We are talking about an operation that resembles the one in Bosnia-Herzegovina," Ahtisaari said on "Late Edition."
Shea reiterated that any peacekeeping force introduced in Kosovo must be controlled by NATO -- a provision not outlined in the G-8 proposal that Milosevic reportedly agreed to in principle.
"The refugees will not move unless they see a very strong NATO presence in that force," he said. "We know fully well that only a very strong NATO force will be able to provide the security that's necessary for the reconstruction of Kosovo."
Clark said any move toward peace by Milosevic was prompted by the airstrikes.
"This winning of the air campaign is what's propelling the more or less frantic diplomatic efforts that President Milosevic is attempting to engage in now in an effort to get a bombing pause. So it's clear which way this campaign is going," he said.
Clark dismissed suggestions NATO should halt the bombing, which some NATO critics contend has stymied diplomatic efforts, in particular those by Russia.
"It will give them a chance to reconstitute and refit their forces. It will raise the risk to our NATO pilots when we resume operations over Kosovo," Clark said.
A top Yugoslav official said NATO has other reasons for not stopping the bombing.
"The insistence of the continuance of the bombing is crystal clear, that they are opposed to a peaceful resolution of the problem," said Vladislav Jovanovic, Yugoslavia's charge d'affaires to the United Nations.
"They are still decided to win one unwinnable and unauthorized war." Jovanovic said on "Late Edition."
"This is very bad because it is an ominous sign that peace efforts ... have very powerful enemies in NATO and in some circuits of the U.S. government," he said.
Meanwhile, NATO plans to again boost its air forces in the Balkans. The deployment of 68 more aircraft beginning next week will bring to 769 the number of U.S. aircraft operating in the Balkans, Pentagon officials said. NATO forces will have 1,089 aircraft when the deployment is completed.
Britain plans to redeploy Tornado fighter-bombers from Germany to the French island of Corsica to shorten the flying distance to Yugoslavia.
Yugoslavia reports more civilian casualties in NATO attacks
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