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NATO Knocks Serb TV Off the Air

April 23, 1999

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (AP) _ NATO struck the headquarters of Serbia’s most important television network early Friday and knocked it off the air. Hours earlier, a Russian envoy said Yugoslavia’s president had accepted the idea of a U.N.-controlled ``international presence″ in Kosovo.

Making good on earlier threats, the alliance sent a missile into Serbian state television’s downtown headquarters that collapsed its top two floors and toppled half of the main antenna, according to reporters on the scene.

Ambulances rushed to the area as thick smoke filled the street and terrified staff milled about calling names of colleagues they feared were trapped inside.

Rescue official Slobodan Ivanovic told Studio B television that there were ``several dead and many injured.″ He also said an undetermined number of people were still trapped in the rubble. Reporters saw about a dozen injured taken away.

Studio B showed live scenes of the rescue attempt, including police trying to remove one man drenched in blood from the debris. All the glass in the building had been shattered and pieces of video tape and studio equipment were scattered on the street.

NATO has long complained that Serbian television was a legitimate military target because it was spreading ``propaganda″ about the alliance air campaign.

When television sets went dead, the network was airing a taped interview of President Slobodan Milosevic by Houston’s KHOU-TV at the time.

In a diplomatic bid to end the conflict, former Russian Premier Viktor Chernomyrdin had held daylong talks Thursday with Milosevic. It was unclear whether the international force discussed would be armed, under what guidelines it would operate or whether the offer represented a real peace gesture.

NATO has insisted it must lead any armed presence in Kosovo to enforce a peace agreement. Milosevic has so far rejected NATO demands to withdraw his troops from the embattled province and accept a Western-dictated autonomy plan for the ethnic Albanian majority there.

It appeared unlikely NATO would accept any plan that did not include an armed military force in Kosovo to police a peace deal and protect ethnic Albanian civilians. In an interview with CNN’s ``Larry King Live,″ Norwegian Foreign Minister Knut Vollebaek, chairman of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said ``to expect the refugees to return without an armed military presence is impossible.″

Chernomyrdin said he and Milosevic had ``considered the possibility of an international presence led by the U.N. in which Russia would take part.″

But it was unclear whether such a presence meant the armed force demanded by NATO and it appeared to be the same offer Milosevic made to a Belarus delegation last week _ an offer that NATO dismissed.

President Clinton said in Washington that he did not have details of what was discussed.

``If there is an offer for a genuine security force, that’s the first time that Mr. Milosevic has done that,″ Clinton said.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said he was encouraged by news that Yugoslavia would accept an international presence in Kosovo and ``eagerly awaits the details.″

Soon after Chernomyrdin left for Moscow Thursday afternoon, alliance jets were back in action, attacking a railway bridge on the Ibar River in central Serbia and three Serbian television relays.

Yugoslav media also reported NATO jets pummeled the area around the southern town of Vranje, 190 miles southeast of Belgrade, with 40 missiles over a two-hour period and blasted the center of Uzice, 75 miles southeast of here, damaging the post office and other buildings. NATO jets also destroyed a bridge over the Rasina river near Krusevac, about 95 miles south of Belgrade.

As NATO leaders gathered in Washington for a 50-year alliance anniversary summit, a missile early Thursday morning struck directly against Milosevic for the first time, destroying his luxurious mansion. The attack delivered a graphic message to Belgrade that it remains resolved to crush his forces if he doesn’t pull them out of Kosovo and commit to peace.

Milosevic and his family were not home at the time, state officials said; he has at least one other home in the capital. NATO says that since the bombing campaign began March 24, Milosevic has spent each night in a different bunker.

Yugoslav officials expressed outrage over what they said was an attempt to kill their leader, saying three laser-guided bombs blasted Milosevic’s bedroom, living room and dining room.

``NATO committed a criminal act without precedence _ an assassination attempt against the president of a sovereign state,″ said Goran Matic, a government minister.

NATO and other Western officials called the building a presidential command post and legitimate military target.

``Milosevic himself is not a target,″ said White House spokesman Joe Lockhart. ``The command and control center is.″

American officials have insisted they are not trying to kill the Yugoslav leader. U.S. law bans assassination attempts on other countries’ leaders but no prohibition exists on hitting facilities _ which may also be a leader’s residence _ that are considered command and control centers.

Last December, several of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s palaces and a house belonging to his daughter were hit during U.S. and British air attacks. And in 1986, the Air Force took out Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi’s house and his tent in a raid on Tripoli.

The attack against Milosevic’s home came a day after missiles slammed into a Belgrade high-rise that housed Milosevic’s governing party and a radio and TV station owned by his daughter.

Also Thursday, the Kosovo rebels’ news agency alleged that Serb forces killed dozens of ethnic Albanian civilians in Kosovo. The Kosova Press report, which could not be independently confirmed, said Serb forces killed 50 ethnic Albanians in the past week around Podujevo, north of Pristina. It also said Serb paramilitary forces killed at least 40 people in five villages in the region of Lipljan, south of Pristina.

The rebels claimed they killed seven Serb policemen near Djakovica.

Meanwhile, NATO spokesman Maj. Eric Mignot said three Macedonian soldiers were injured Thursday when a land mine exploded in no-man’s land between Macedonia and Yugoslavia. One was in serious condition, he said.

The area between Macedonia and Yugoslavia has been flooded with refugees from Kosovo. Macedonia has been reluctant to accept them and its soldiers have increasingly patrolled the area.

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