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Some Yugoslavs Don’t Fear NATO Hit

October 6, 1998

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (AP) _ Some Yugoslavs bracing for possible NATO airstrikes over the crackdown in Kosovo went on panic shopping sprees or waited in long gasoline lines. A privileged few even bought plane tickets for the West.

But a majority appeared to be taking the NATO threats in stride.

``What can I do? Run away? Where?″ asked Milica Babovic, a 22-year-old university student. ``I can just sit here and wait for the bombs to start falling.″

Such measured indifference _ and the black humor on the streets about the accuracy of NATO missiles _ mask a growing concern about possible civilian casualties.

In huge letters, Belgrade dailies run headlines reflecting the edgy disbelief: ``Will They Bomb Us?″ ``Bombs For Weekend?″ and ``Bombs Arrive Next Thursday, at 4 a.m.″

Airstrikes, which could come within days if Western leaders remain unconvinced Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic has halted his crackdown on ethnic Albanian rebels, would ostensibly target Yugoslav military facilities.

But the wide range of possible sites _ from Kosovo to Montenegro to the capital of Belgrade itself _ has some Yugoslavs on edge.

``I still can’t believe they would bomb us _ it would be a complete mess!″ said Dragoslava Jeftic, a 41-year-old nurse, in an agitated voice. ``But I watch every news program. I must know if I should run and hide.″

Although involved in the violent breakup of former Yugoslavia, Serbia and Montenegro _ the two republics that form what’s left of Yugoslavia _ have been spared war at home.

Rock music blasts from Belgrade’s former bomb shelters, turned into cafes or discos since they were built during World War II.

While the young sip sodas and beer in the cafes, older residents stash food and warn that Belgrade has already undergone two major bombings, by the Germans in 1941 and the Americans in 1944.

``I beg the Americans: please don’t ‘help’ our country with bombs,″ said 80-year-old Sonja Milicevic. ``Help us get democracy and get rid of our dictators instead.″

Shopkeepers in Belgrade reported a drastic increase in sales of flour, sugar, cooking oil and other staples. Drugstores, while still well-stocked, have recorded increases in sales of bandages, antibiotics and disinfectants.

A shortage of fuel created lines at gas stations due to a sudden increase in demand. Plane tickets for Western destinations have been booked for a long while.

When a strong earthquake shook Serbia shortly after midnight last Wednesday, the first thought of many was that it might be NATO dropping bombs. Overnight radio talk shows were jammed with panicky calls: ``Are they bombing us?″

Some oppose intervention for purely political reasons, saying bombs would only serve to strengthen Milosevic’s autocratic grip on power.

The Association of Independent Electronic Media, a group that tries to counterbalance the propaganda issued by powerful state media, has warned that NATO attacks on Serbia would be ``wrong and politically damaging″ because they would give Milosevic an alibi to silence his opponents at home.

Meanwhile, Milosevic supporters are on a bravado campaign.

``Americans are cowards. They can fire missiles but they won’t dare to come down here, to fight us face to face,″ said Aleksandar Jaksic, owner of a car wash in downtown Belgrade.

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