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Yugoslav Diplomats Keep Working

March 25, 1999

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Far from the NATO bombs rocking their country, Yugoslavia’s diplomats in Washington are trying to maintain a business-as-usual atmosphere despite strong concerns about their relatives and friends back home.

``We are functioning normally, fulfilling our diplomatic duties as best we can,″ Nebojsa Vujovic, the embassy’s top official, said Thursday.

The mission has remained open even though the United States closed its embassy in Belgrade over the weekend and evacuated remaining diplomats prior to NATO airstrikes that began Wednesday night.

NATO says the attacks are designed to force Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to accept a peace plan for the country’s southern province of Kosovo, where government forces are fighting ethnic Albanian rebels seeking autonomy.

The embassy is working frantically to publicize its government’s view that the NATO attack is a blatant case of unprovoked aggression on a sovereign country. On Wednesday, Vujovic gave 11 interviews to U.S. media organizations.

``The military aggression against Yugoslavia is a crime against a sovereign and independent nation,″ Vujovic told The Associated Press in an interview at the embassy, situated on a quiet, leafy street off Massachusetts Avenue.

``It is also a flagrant violation of the whole system of international law,″ he said. ``Yugoslavia is interested more than anybody else in a political solution to the (Kosovo) problem ... there are no smart bombs, there are only smart political solutions.″

Vujovic, a Serb whose family hails from Kosovo, conceded that the embassy’s dozen staff members were deeply concerned about the fate of relatives and friends in Yugoslavia.

``Of course, each and every person in the embassy is worried about their families back home,″ he said. But international telephone links with Yugoslavia had deteriorated in the past two days, making it occasionally difficult to get through.

On Wednesday, the embassy’s phones were jammed with calls of support from members of the Yugoslav community in the United States and from Americans expressing opposition to the attacks.

Vujovic described diplomatic contacts with the State Department as ``normal.″ Even the embassy’s defense attache was maintaining normal contacts with the Pentagon office responsible for foreign military representatives.

No formal diplomatic protest has been lodged with the Clinton administration, Vujovic said. But Yugoslavia already has demanded that the U.N. Security Council and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe _ the body responsible for security on the continent _ condemn the NATO action.

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