NATO Knocks Serb TV Off Air
Apr. 23, 1999
BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (AP) _ NATO struck the headquarters of Serbia's state television today, knocking the country's main source of news off the air a day after hitting the home of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.
Ten people were killed, said Goran Matic, federal minister without portfolio, 20 were believed still buried in the debris and 19 others were injured.
Meanwhile, pushing a Moscow plan to settle the Kosovo conflict, a Russian mediator claimed Yugoslav was willing to accept an international military force. But officials in Belgrade said Milosevic only backs allowing an unarmed force into Kosovo _ indicating he still rejects the key element of a Western-backed peace plan.
NATO has long said Serbian television was a legitimate target because it was spreading ``propaganda'' about the month-long allied air campaign.
Radio Television Serbia had been broadcasting a taped interview with Milosevic by Houston's KHOU-TV when its downtown Belgrade headquarters was hit by a missile.
The attack on the day NATO opened its 50th anniversary summit came hours after a Russian envoy said Milosevic accepted the idea of a U.N.-controlled ``international presence'' in Kosovo, where 14 months of war has left thousands of ethnic Albanians dead and more than 650,000 refugees.
President Clinton and British Prime Minister Tony Blair later said the proposal fell short of NATO's demands for an armed force in the southern Serbian province, a Blair spokesman said.
NATO said the alliance was not aiming for the media: ``We are targeting communications and radio and TV nodes which are supporting the power structure and the propaganda machine of Mr. Milosevic,'' the official said.
Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon said today that NATO was trying hard to hold casualties down but ``we never promised'' airstrikes couldn't cause deaths in ``dual-use facilities.''
In a statement, the Serbian government said NATO was trying ``to kill the truth about its evil deeds'' and Belgrade Mayor Vojislav Mihajlovic declared: ``For the first time in world history, the media war is fought with bombs.''
Since Milosevic came to power in 1989, Serbian TV has been one of the pillars of his rule, expressing only official views and denouncing the opposition.
The state-run news agency Tanjug said about 150 people were inside the building at the time of the attack.
The attack knocked down the network's transmission tower and collapsed its top two floors, according to reporters on the scene. Thick smoke filled the street, and terrified staff milled about calling the names of colleagues they feared were trapped inside.
``We were sitting in the editing room and all of a sudden we heard a tremendous blast,'' videotape editor Sava Andjelkovic told reporters. ``A wall behind me virtually vanished, and then the entire wing of the building. We heard screams of wounded people.''
When it resumed broadcasting from what it said was a ``reserve system,'' RTS reported one staff member had been killed.
Reporters saw the body of one dead man _ almost decapitated _ dangling from the rubble. Another man was trapped between two huge concrete blocks. Doctors amputated both his legs at the site. He was rushed to the hospital, where he died, media reports said.
Officials said the missile also destroyed the satellite link with Eurovision, used by foreign TV crews to transmit material abroad.
Serbian Information Minister Aleksandar Vucic blamed the leaders of Britain and the United States for the devastation.
``Such criminals as Clinton and Blair could not have been born by any mother,'' Vucic told reporters at the scene. ``Just punishment will reach them. They are the biggest criminals and beasts.''
In a diplomatic bid to end the conflict, former Russian Premier Viktor Chernomyrdin met with Milosevic for nine hours Wednesday. It was unclear whether the proposed international force would be armed, how it would operate, and whether the offer represented a real peace gesture.
Moscow's plan calls for the withdrawal of NATO forces massed at Yugoslav borders, a U.N.-led ``international presence'' in Kosovo with Russia's participation, Yugoslav's ``curtailing'' its army and police forces in Kosovo and the return of refugees, Russia's ITAR-Tass news agency.
Chernomyrdin said talks with NATO concerning the plan would continue today by telephone.
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 province and accept a Western-dictated autonomy plan for the ethnic Albanian majority there.
In London, a spokesman for the British prime minister said Clinton and Blair discussed the offer in a 20-minute phone call.
``They both felt that what Milosevic was offering at this stage fell well short of what was required to meet NATO's conditions,'' said the spokesman, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Soon after Chernomyrdin left for Moscow, alliance jets were back in action Thursday night and early today, attacking a railway bridge on the Ibar River in central Serbia, three Serbian television relays, a major rail bridge west of Belgrade and the southern city of Nis.
Yugoslav media also reported NATO jets pummeled the area around the southern town of Vranje with 40 missiles in two hours, and blasted Uzice, 75 miles southeast of here, damaging the post office and other buildings. NATO jets also reportedly destroyed a bridge over the Rasina River near Krusevac, 95 miles south of Belgrade.
Refugees continued to stream out of Kosovo, where hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanians remained displaced, and NATO jets rained dozens of missiles near the provincial capital, Pristina.
Pentagon officials say more than 9,000 air missions over Yugoslavia have heavily damaged roads, bridges, fuel depots, important communications systems and significant percentages of Serb weaponry.
Rear Adm. Thomas Wilson said Milosevic's army had been made more vulnerable to a NATO ground campaign, should the alliance undertake that step.