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NATO Bombs Yugoslavia for 2nd Night

March 25, 1999

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (AP) _ NATO launched an aerial bombardment on Yugoslavia for a second night Thursday, following through on a pledge by its commanders of a weeks-long campaign if necessary to destroy the nation’s military forces.

Air raids sirens sounded in Belgrade, Pristina and elsewhere in Yugoslavia Thursday night after dozens of NATO warplanes took off from bases in Italy. Cruise missiles were launched from warships in the Adriatic, NATO said.

Western leaders had promised a second night of attacks by bombers and cruise missiles after a devastating first round that reportedly killed at least 11 people, injured dozens and delivered serious blows to the military infrastructure.

``We’re going to systematically and progressively attack, disrupt, degrade, devastate and ultimately _ unless President Milosevic complies with the demands of the international community _ we’re going to destroy these forces and their facilities and support,″ said U.S. Gen. Wesley Clark, supreme commander of allied forces in Europe.

But there was no hint the assault was causing Milosevic to rethink his refusal to end his forces’ offensive in separatist Kosovo province or accept a peace plan calling for 28,000 NATO troops to enforce it.

Fighting raged in Kosovo, where Serb forces were accused of attacks on civilians, and the government stood firm in denouncing the ``brutal aggression″ by the 19-nation NATO alliance.

After Milosevic met with his top officials to review the first bombardment, the leadership issued a statement characterizing the ``criminal attacks″ as ``a grave crime against the people of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.″

``This will never be forgotten and the aggressors will never be forgiven,″ Ivica Dacic, a spokesman for Milosevic’s Serbian Socialist Party, said at a news conference in Belgrade.

NATO began the initial attack Wednesday night with the launch of cruise missiles from American B-52s in the air and ships in the Adriatic Sea, many of them aimed at Yugoslavia’s air defense system. Other targets, NATO sources said, included ammunition dumps, radar installations, artillery, fiber optic cables and command and control centers.

The Yugoslav army acknowledged that over 50 targets were hit, and Javier Solana, the alliance’s secretary-general, said initial reports indicated the first phase was a success.

The Serbian health minister, Dr. Leposava Milecevic, told CNN that 10 civilians and one soldier were killed in the Wednesday night attack and 60 people were wounded. An official army statement listed 10 people dead and 38 wounded, with one soldier missing.

Clark said it was impossible to know precisely what had happened on the ground in target areas, saying NATO forces were taking ``every possible measure″ to minimize the possibility of civilian casualties.

Air sirens sounded periodically throughout the day Thursday before the evening attack in the tense capital Belgrade, where schools, airports and most shops were closed. Amid the cry of sirens, dozens lined up in front of a basement bomb shelter in the center of the city of 2 million, prepared to rush inside.

In NATO’s first damage assessment hours earlier at alliance headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, Secretary-General Javier Solana said initial reports indicated the first phase was a success. Clark said allied aircraft ``destroyed″ three Yugoslav jet fighters in the first round of air combat _ two shot down by U.S. F-16s and the other by a Dutch F-16.

But the army reiterated its defiance, saying the ``high morale of the units was preserved,″ and Milosevic congratulated Yugoslav military commands for their ``brave resistance.″

The government of Serbia, which along with smaller Montenegro makes up Yugoslavia, ordered the expulsion of all foreign journalists from countries involved in the NATO airstrikes. Many foreign reporters headed out of the country.

In a sign of rising hostility toward Westerners, the Beta news agency in Belgrade also reported unknown assailants smashed windows at the cultural centers of France, Germany and the United States _ all NATO members involved in the attacks.

The NATO attack came after months of diplomacy failed to end fighting that has killed more than 2,000 people in the Yugoslav province of Kosovo, where 90 percent of the people are ethnic Albanians, and made refugees of hundreds of thousands more.

Besides wanting to stop the crackdown, Western officials also cite the need to prevent the possible spread of conflict in the region, perhaps from instability caused by ethnic Albanian refugees. Turkey reported Thursday that 2,000 Kosovo refugees had arrived in the previous three days.

Many European and Asian leaders backed the airstrikes as vital to end fighting in Kosovo, but China and Russia demanded an immediate end to the allied assault.

In Kosovo, where the exodus of journalists made it virtually impossible to verify claims, there were reports of rising violence, much of it targeting civilians.

The state news agency Tanjug reported that Kosovo Liberation Army rebels ``encouraged and supported by last night’s criminal activities″ attacked government forces in several areas.

A hard-line ethnic Albanian rebel commander told The Associated Press by telephone that the situation in Kosovo was ``very catastrophic.″

Ramush Hajredinaj reported that Serb police and Yugoslav soldiers in the Vucitirn area were pushing civilians one by one from village to village, and Serbs had blocked roads in the Drenica area, trapping civilians in villages there.

He said the Serbs were burning houses in the southern city of Pec, and kidnapping people there and in other areas.

``The situation is very catastrophic ... no one can go inside, no aid groups,″ he said.

Anti-NATO sentiments erupted Thursday in neighboring Macedonia, where more than 2,000 demonstrators chanting ``NATO out of Macedonia″ threw stones, broke windows and hurled gasoline bombs at the U.S. Embassy. Three cars were burned as protesters tried to storm the building.

Tensions also increased dramatically along the northern Albanian border, with Serb forces deploying along the border in large numbers and Albanians reporting mortar fire from Kosovo had damaged three houses.

Update hourly