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Belgrade Feels Pinch of NATO Action

April 12, 1999

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (AP) _ An open trailer in Belgrade’s farmers’ market now serves as a bed for Zoran Jovanovic and his wife, stranded as they try to sell their produce despite NATO airstrikes.

Before the start of the allied air attacks on March 24, Jovanovic and his wife used the trailer only to bring fruits and vegetables to Belgrade. On normal days they sold out by early afternoon and were back home near the southern city of Nis by evening.

Now, money is tight. Jovanovic said Monday it takes three days to sell what he used to sell in one, forcing him and his wife to camp out for two nights in the capital before going home to their farm, 150 miles south of Belgrade.

Days worrying about economic survival are followed by anxious nights. Lying on their backs in the trailer, Jovanovic says he and his wife often see skies lit up by NATO strikes and outgoing anti-aircraft fire.

And he has other problems. With fuel depots and refineries prime NATO targets, gas is growing scarce _ and getting goods to market is difficult.

Gasoline and diesel were put under strict rationing March 30. Farmers and others considered providers of key staples are allowed 8 gallons for every acre they own. Others must make do with 10 gallons a month.

``We are suffering more each day,″ says Jovanovic, his eyes red-rimmed from fatigue as he and his wife waited behind a stand of barely touched young lettuce just minutes ahead of the market’s closing time.

``I have a ton of apples rotting back home, because I have no way to get them to market,″ he said.

The worries voiced by Jovanovic and others at the market speak more starkly of the hardship starting to hit ordinary Serbians than dry NATO briefings and Yugoslav state media reports could ever do.

Targets of NATO missiles and bombers in the past week have included the main storage center of Jugopetrol, the state oil company, and five other large fuel depots in and outside Belgrade, including one struck early Monday.

The attacks, along with strikes on main bridges in northern and central Yugoslavia, are aimed at slowing Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic’s military machinery in Kosovo. But they are also hurting ordinary Serbians.

``All the food shops are well-stocked but some prices are going up, particularly on less basic items like cigarettes and delicatessen foods _ smoked hams and the like,″ said Mila Milanovic, 65. ``I have less problems supplying myself, because I have relatives abroad, but some of my neighbors aren’t so lucky.″

A tour of downtown Belgrade shows other signs that ordinary people are hurting.

Kristina Stoimenovic, a clerk at a cosmetics store, says business is bad, and there is worse news. Anticipating trouble, her boss bought large stocks before the first airstrikes. But lack of fuel means no restocking, and ``once what we have is gone, we close,″ she said.

Jovanovic and his wife, Katarina, have other concerns than worrying about what to do when lipstick and face cream become rarities.

Because of strict government price controls _ enforced by fines and prison _ he and others cannot charge more for their goods to make up for fewer customers. And even stricter penalties for dealing in black market fuel keep them from going down that road to get fuel for transport of produce.

That’s double trouble for Jovanovic, who says he is making 80 percent less profit a day now than before the airstrikes began.

``I can’t afford to buy clothes for my children anymore,″ he said. ``All my money goes for basic food and fuel.″

Worse is to come, as far as food is concerned. Jovanovic says many farmers have stopped working the land due to a lack of fuel, spare parts _ and sometimes labor, with sons pressed into the army instead of being allowed to farm.

``Huge troubles lie ahead,″ he warned.

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