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NATO Hits Serbian Industrial Areas

April 12, 1999

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (AP) _ NATO struck at Serbia’s industrial heartland today, returning to sites already hard hit in the allied air campaign to force Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to accept a peace agreement in Kosovo.

As NATO foreign ministers convened in Belgium for their first meeting since airstrikes began nearly three weeks ago, Western officials continued to express deep concern over the more than half-million ethnic Albanian refugees who have left the province, and hundreds of thousands of others displaced within Kosovo.

In neighboring Albania, the worst border clashes between Kosovo rebels and Yugoslav forces in weeks left two people dead and nine others wounded, international monitors said. Yugoslav officials accused NATO and Albania of aiding the rebel Kosovo Liberation Army.

NATO says the bombing campaign will go on until Milosevic withdraws Yugoslav and Serb units sent to Serbia’s southern Kosovo province as part of his crackdown on Kosovo separatist rebels.

In the industrial town of Pancevo just across the Danube from Belgrade, orange flames leaped into the night sky as fire engulfed one of Yugoslavia’s biggest oil refineries early today. The state-run Tanjug news agency said several blasts shook the town, but no casualties were immediately reported.

The factory that makes Yugo cars _ housed in a complex that also makes weapons _ was hammered again early today, Tanjug said. The Zastava plant in Kragujevac, 45 miles southwest of Belgrade, was badly damaged last week. The independent Beta news agency said the Yugo plant’s assembly lines were badly damaged.

Nearby Batajnica, site of a military airfield, was also targeted, according to reports.

The latest wave of strikes also reportedly targeted Serbia’s second-largest city, Novi Sad, where two major bridges had already been destroyed. Tanjug said a missile struck a residential area Sunday evening. Beta quoted Caslav Popovic, a city official, saying a military barracks had been targeted, causing fires but no causalities.

Civilians were wounded in the central Serbian town of Krusevac, where a factory and a thermal heating plant were hit, Serbian TV said. It did not report any deaths.

Kosovo, which took the brunt of strikes on Sunday _ Orthodox Easter _ was hit again late in the day, when British Harrier jets struck a fuel storage depot in the southern Serbian province, the British military said.

Amid growing Western concern about conditions in Kosovo, NATO officials showed aerial photographs Sunday of what was described as a possible mass grave in Pusto Selo outside the provincial capital, Pristina. NATO spokesman Jamie Shea said Sunday the ground appeared to be freshly dug and the pictures resembled those of mass graves seen during the war in Bosnia.

First-hand information from inside Kosovo is hard to come by, but British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook estimated Sunday that about 400,000 people are hiding from Serb forces in the forests and mountains of Kosovo. He came up with the figure after talking by telephone to Hashim Thaci, an ethnic Albanian leader in the province.

British officials also said some 100,000 ethnic Albanian men were believed missing, based on the low number of males among the refugees crossing into Macedonia and Albania. The estimate revived speculation the men had either been massacred by Serbs, joined the rebel Kosovo Liberation Army or were being held hostage.

Many of the refugees managing to get across intermittently open borders tell of their villages being burned and emptied.

On Yugoslavia’s tense southern border, the conflict spilled over again into Albania. In the border town of Tropoja, heavy mortar fire hit border police headquarters and a residential neighborhood Sunday, killing two people and wounding nine, said Andrea Angeli, spokesman for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which monitors the frontier.

Earlier Sunday, Albania reported 10 mortars had landed near the village of Kremica on the Albanian side. The Serbs also reported shells fired from Albania landed on their side of the border.

More fighting at the Padesh border station, near Tropoja, wounded three KLA fighters and a foreign reporter, Angeli later reported. No further details were immediately available.

A Yugoslav army officer on the border told Serbian TV on Sunday that larger and larger units of the Kosovo rebel army were trying to infiltrate Kosovo from Albania. The officer accused NATO of supporting the KLA and pressing its fighters to cross over into Yugoslavia.

Throughout the 14-month Serb crackdown in Kosovo, northern Albania has been a key training and supply base for the KLA. Many of its soldiers have died crossing the border to bring weapons into Kosovo or fleeing back to Albania with Yugoslav forces in pursuit.

Albania has already become a major staging ground for NATO action against Yugoslavia. It has handed over control of its airspace, ports and ``military infrastructure″ to the alliance and is ready to accept more NATO ground troops than the 8,000 already agreed to, Foreign Minister Paskal Milo said Sunday.

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