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Belgrade Sees 1st Daytime Air-Raid

April 10, 1999

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (AP) _ Air-raid sirens sounded a brief daytime alert in the Yugoslav capital today for the first time, hours after NATO airstrikes on a transmission tower knocked Serbian TV off the air in Kosovo.

NATO sources confirmed the strike on the relay station atop Mt. Goles near Kosovo’s capital. Yugoslavia’s state-run Tanjug news agency said the transmitter was hit by several missiles, leaving viewers in Pristina unable to watch state-run television.

Bad weather badly crimped airstrikes, but NATO promised the bombing campaign will go on ``as long as necessary″ until President Slobodan Milosevic withdraws Yugoslav and Serb units sent to Kosovo as part of his crackdown on the separatist Kosovo Liberation Army.

``When the weather clears, the bombing will continue with increasing ferocity,″ Doug Henderson, the British armed forces minister, said today.

NATO said weather had severely affected air operations against Yugoslavia, forcing the allies to cancel three of the four planned waves of attack aircraft in the previous 24 hours.

``Weather hindered us significantly,″ said Col. Konrad Freytag, briefing reporters at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium.

Cruise missiles were fired from American and British ships, he said.

Among the targets hit was the radio relay tower outside Pristina, a facility Freytag described as ``dual-use ... mainly military ... and that’s why it was taken out.″

British military briefers said Friday _ and asserted again today _ that half of Yugoslavia’s MiG-29 fighters have now been destroyed. Fuel depots, communication centers and supply lines have also been hit hard, they said.

In the first daytime air-raid warning in Belgrade in the 18 days of the air campaign, sirens wailed in mid-morning. An all-clear sounded an hour later, but the alert rattled nerves in Belgrade, which so far has not been hit by any raids during daylight hours.

That has not been the case in Kosovo, where daytime strikes have become routine. The Serb village of Gracanica, just outside Pristina and famous for its 14th-century monastery, was hit at midday, Tanjug said. No details on damage were available.

Tanjug also said NATO hit a railway station depot in Kosovo Polje, just west of Pristina, before dawn. Also targeted was Mount Medvednik near the southeastern Serbian town of Valjevo, the news agency said.

Meanwhile, a Cypriot envoy returned home empty-handed today, failing to win the release of three U.S. soldiers. Spyros Kyprianou, speaker of the Cyprus parliament, blamed his lack of success on the continued U.S. bombings for Yugoslavia’s refusal to free the American servicemen, seized March 31 along the Macedonian border.

The Clinton administration said it was not surprised the talks failed. ``We did not have great expectations,″ said deputy press secretary Barry Toiv.

Continuing what has become a grim guessing game along Yugoslavia’s frontier, about 1,500 ethnic Albanian refugees from Kosovo were allowed to cross late Friday into Albania during a brief opening of the frontier. They said they had been chased from their homes by Serb forces.

Today, a group of about 80 frightened refugees arrived in Macedonia, saying they had trekked through the mountains for four days to avoid Serbian-manned border crossings. They, too, reported being terrorized along the way by Serb police.

Yugoslavia for several days now has vacillated between opening border points and pushing Kosovars out, and closing crossings and urging people to return to their homes.

Western officials have expressed fears Yugoslavia wants to keep some ethnic Albanians inside Kosovo to serve as human shields against the NATO attacks that began March 24 over Milosevic’s refusal to sign a peace deal over Kosovo.

More than 2,000 people have died over the past 14 months, at least a half-million been displaced and repeated allegations of atrocities been lodged over the Yugoslav and Serb crackdown on Kosovo Albanians seeking to break away from Yugoslavia.

Because neither aid agencies nor international monitors are operating inside Kosovo, the fate of thousands turned back at the borders by Yugoslav authorities is unknown.

NATO said Friday it was working with relief officials to try to track an enormous queue of people whose cars were abandoned on the Kosovo side of the Albanian border earlier this week.

Of the refugees who made it out, thousands have been flown to temporary haven in third countries, but the bulk of those who have fled in recent days or were driven out of Kosovo remain in Albania and the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia.

NATO sources said today that during last 24 hours there had been 79 aid flights into Macedonia and 66 into Albania. Both groups of flights carried food, water, medical supplies and tents.

Heightened tensions on Yugoslavia’s borders with Albania and Macedonia, meanwhile, brought fears the conflict could intensify.

Yugoslav troops clashed throughout the day Friday with Kosovo Liberation Army rebels along Albania’s northern border. At least four rebels were killed, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said

Hostilities continued today, said the OSCE, which monitors the border zone. It said two Serb mortars hit the Albanian border village of Kamenica but caused no casualties.

Although there was no indication the Albanian army was involved, the Yugoslav army accused Albania of supporting ``aggression″ and warned it must ``bear the consequences″ if the conflict spreads.

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