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Yugoslavia Says 10 Killed, 38 Hurt

March 25, 1999

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (AP) _ Yugoslavia defiantly absorbed its first night of punishment from NATO air power, claiming 10 people were killed and 38 wounded overnight in an aerial barrage intended to force President Slobodan Milosevic to make peace in Kosovo.

The army reiterated its defiance after a night of strikes on more than 50 targets, saying the ``high morale of the units was preserved.″ Milosevic congratulated Yugoslav military commands for their ``brave resistance.″

Air raid sirens blared today and the state news agency reported more fighting in Kosovo. It was not immediately clear if further NATO attacks took place in daylight after a night of cruise missile and bombing strikes on military airports and other targets.

However, a NATO F-15 jet fighter spewing white smoke made a successful emergency landing at Sarajevo’s airport around midday. Without elaborating, a NATO source said on condition of anonymity that the plane and another undamaged jet fighter accompanying it were American.

There was no comment on whether the plane had been involved in the airstrikes.

The Yugoslav Defense Ministry in a statement today called the NATO attacks an ``unprecedented criminal act″ that support ethnic Albanian ``terrorists.″

The airstrikes were NATO’s first attack on a sovereign country in the 50 years since the Western alliance was formed.

Western officials promised further strikes, saying the campaign would end only when Milosevic’s military had been crippled or if he capitulated and agreed to the peace deal already accepted by the ethnic Albanians.

NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana said on France’s Europe 1 radio the first phase of the bombings likely would continue ``for several days.″

``The objective is to curb the capacity of Milosevic’s army to repress the Kosovo Albanians,″ British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook told the British Broadcasting Corp. ``When that stops, the military action will stop.″

But violence was unrelenting. The Tanjug state news agency reported that Kosovo Liberation Army rebels ``encouraged and supported by last night’s criminal activities,″ attacked government forces in Kosovo around Podujevo, Kosovska Mitrovica, Suva Reka, Drenica and Orahovac. The report could not be confirmed.

In the Kosovo capital, Pristina, witnesses said the office of ethnic Albanian political leader Ibrahim Rugova was vandalized. Windows and doors were smashed and smoke drifted out windows, indicating the office had been burned the previous night.

Just north of the city, a tire shop smoldered and its roof was missing after a missile strike the previous night that missed a nearby military barracks, the largest in Pristina.

Witnesses saw smoke rising from a military airfield north of Belgrade after air raid sirens sounded at mid-morning today in the capital, along with the Serbian town of Kragujevac and Pristina.

In Belgrade, dozens lined up in front of a basement bomb shelter in the center of Belgrade, prepared to rush inside.

Kragujevac, a major military-industrial center, was dark after an explosion early today, the private news agency Beta reported.

But Belgrade was quiet, with most shops closed and little indication of any military attack. Schools and airports also were closed.

Independent and state-run papers in the Yugoslav capital reported the NATO bombing killed an undetermined number of women and children, including family members of Yugoslav Army officers living in military buildings because they were refugees from past wars in Bosnia and Croatia. A NATO spokesman in Brussels, Belgium, would not comment on the report.

The army statement did not specify if the casualties were civilians or military, and also added that one soldier was missing.

Lt. Gen. Nebojsa Pavkovic, commander of Yugoslav troops in Kosovo, had called the impact of the overnight NATO attack ``minimal.″

But the Russian General Staff in Moscow said NATO attacks badly damaged five military airfields, two factories, a communications center, several barracks, and a police training base.

Pristina was without electricity and water all night, although power was restored at about dawn today. The center of the city was virtually deserted today, with all shops and stores closed.

NATO officials said today they were assessing the damage from the airstrikes. Aircraft of eight NATO nations struck military bases, factories and air defenses with cruise missiles and aircraft, including the U.S. B-2 stealth bombers, making their combat debut.

Some two dozen journalists were arrested as they tried to watch the assault from the roof of a Belgrade hotel. All but one eventually were released. A reporter from The Washington Post also was arrested early today in his hotel room, and a hotel clerk told the newspaper that police said the journalist would be expelled from the country.

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

``We’ve seen innocent people taken from their homes, forced to kneel in the dirt and sprayed by bullets,″ President Clinton said in a nationally broadcast speech. ``By acting now, we are upholding our values, protecting our interests and advancing the cause of peace.″

Kosova Press, the press agency of ethnic Albanian rebels, said Serb forces set fire to a large portion of the northern city of Podujevo Wednesday night. Telephone communication to the region was cut off.

Western officials also cited the need to prevent the possible spread of conflict in the region, perhaps from instability caused by ethnic Albanian refugees. Turkey reported today that 1,300 Kosovo refugees had arrived in the previous three days.

In neighboring Montenegro, Serbia’s junior partner in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, an army military barracks in Danilovgrad was ablaze after being hit. Officials said at least one soldier was killed.

Another neighbor, Albania, cheered the strikes and offered ``all facilities″ to NATO forces, Prime Minister Pandeli Majko said. Information Minister Musa Ulqini said Serb forces fired mortars across the border early this morning, slightly damaging three houses in a village in the Tropoja region.

Russia insisted on an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council, where it was joined Wednesday by China in condemning the NATO action. But President Boris Yeltsin backed away from initial threats of using force against NATO, saying: ``Morally we are above America.″

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