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Milosevic OKs ‘Principles’ of Plan

May 20, 1999

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (AP) _ Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic accepted ``principles″ of a Kosovo peace plan after meeting a Russian envoy Wednesday. Hours later, NATO launched its heaviest attack on Belgrade in weeks, hitting a hospital and damaging the Swedish ambassador’s residence.

At least three people were killed when missiles slammed into the hospital, located near a military barracks in Belgrade, doctors told Serb TV. An intensive care unit and neurological ward were leveled as ambulances rushed the injured to other hospitals, witnesses said.

The attack on the capital came after Russian envoy Viktor Chernomyrdin held seven hours of talks with Milosevic over a peace plan put forward two weeks ago by the G-8 nations.

Milosevic’s backing of the plan as the basis for further negotiations seemed to fall far short of Western conditions for halting the eight-week bombing campaign _ unequivocal acceptance of the international plan.

The president’s office called for Yugoslavia to directly negotiate details of the peace plan with the United Nations. ``The solution could be found only politically and within the U.N. and with direct participation of Yugoslavia, starting from the G-8 principles,″ Milosevic’s office said.

The plan by Russia and the world’s top seven industrialized countries demands a total withdrawal of Serb forces from Kosovo and the deployment of an international security force.

Milosevic has so far rejected demands that the security force be armed. And the G-8 itself is divided over the plan’s call for an ``international security presence″ to police any agreement. The United States says that means an armed military force with NATO at its core. The Russians have not accepted that definition. It also does not define the size of a Serb withdrawal from Kosovo.

Chernomyrdin gave no indication of a breakthrough after his talks with Milosevic, telling Russian reporters that it was ``most important to return Yugoslavia to the negotiating table.″

The attacks on Belgrade late Wednesday and early Thursday also damaged the Swedish ambassador’s residence, located near the hospital. The Swedish foreign ministry said the blast from an explosion some 200 yards away blew out windows and a door, but no one was hurt.

Nearly two weeks ago, NATO missiles directly hit the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, killing three people, sparking outrage from Beijing.

Hospital director Milovan Bojic _ a close Milosevic political ally _ called the attack on the hospital ``a savagery and unheard of scandal.″ Moma Jakovljevic, a doctor there, said at least three patients were killed and several other people, including medical staff, were injured.

Tanjug said an operating room in the hospital was demolished and that rescuers were evacuating infants and pregnant women from the maternity ward.

Witnesses said the nearby army complex was also hit in the attack, and several military vehicles were seen burning in its yard.

Early Thursday, Jets flew low over the city, striking two other neighborhoods at the edge of the capital. Loud explosions and anti-aircraft fire could be heard in the city center.

More raids across the country included strikes on a fuel depot 100 miles northwest of Belgrade, a meteorological station, a bridge across the Begej River north of Belgrade and as the Batajnica military airfield just outside the capital, the media said.

State-controlled media said airstrikes elsewhere in Serbia earlier in the day killed six people.

Chernomyrdin was next to meet U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott and Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari in Moscow on Thursday to brief them on the Belgrade meeting. The three met Tuesday and earlier Wednesday in Helsinki.

In Washington, the State Department said it was waiting to hear Chernomyrdin’s report before reacting to the statement by Milosevic’s office.

NATO demands for peace are similar to those of the G-8: withdrawal of Milosevic’s 40,000-strong Serb forces, the return of nearly 800,000 ethnic Albanians who have been driven out by ``ethnic cleansing″ or fled, and the deployment of a well-armed international peacekeeping force with NATO at its core.

Meanwhile, envoys from the G-8 group gathered in Bonn to try to draw up a U.N. resolution codifying their peace plan. After 12 hours of talks, delegates said they were still divided on some details _ particularly the makeup of an international force.

``It’s important that Milosevic and the Belgrade authorities understand NATO’s resolve,″ White House press secretary Joe Lockhart said in Washington. ``I think you are seeing almost any place you look now signs of problems for Milosevic.″

The State Department said there was increasing opposition to Milosevic’s handling of the Kosovo crisis, saying as many as 500 Serb soldiers have deserted in Kosovo.

In reports of new dissent, an independent newspaper, Glas Javnosti, said protest rallies in the southern city of Krusevac occurred for the second straight day Tuesday by families of men drafted to serve in Kosovo.

A statement by the army garrison command in Krusevac condemned organizers of the protests as ``traitors″ and accused them of ``undermining the defense of the country and collaboration with the enemy.″ Local sources said six were arrested.

Reporters are barred from traveling outside Belgrade without government permission, and the reports could not be independently confirmed.

Serbian opposition leader Zoran Djindjic said the protests took place, adding on Austrian radio that people do ``not want to die blindly.″

Despite NATO reports of growing dissent in Yugoslavia, Milosevic’s government insists the country is fully united behind him in the crisis. ``The enemy is now trying to find among us supporters of capitulation and traitors,″ the Krusevac command’s statement said.

Tanjug said four people were killed when NATO struck an office building earlier Wednesday in Gnjilane, a Kosovo town 25 miles southeast of the capital, Pristina. Yugoslav media said two inmates were killed, and two others and a guard injured when a prison in Istok in northwest Kosovo was hit.

Among other reported attacks, 25 missiles slammed into Raska in the fiercest attack yet on the southern Serbian city.

The NATO campaign began March 24, 13 months after Milosevic’s forces clamped down on Kosovo, killing at least 2,000 people.

Some 100 men in black leather jackets hurled stones and eggs at the headquarters of the main opposition Democratic Party, which has been castigated for opposing Milosevic’s repression of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo. Protesters dispersed when police arrived.

On Tuesday, in a hint of seeking peace, Yugoslav Foreign Ministry spokesman Nebojsa Vujovic said Belgrade is ready ``to cut a deal″ as long as the country’s ``territorial integrity″ is preserved _ meaning no independence for Kosovo, a province of Serbia.

In Macedonia, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan visited Stenkovec, the largest ethnic Albanian refugee camp, where he was cheered by refugees and expressed hopes for peace soon in Kosovo.

The second train of refugees in two days arrived at the Macedonian border. U.N. aid officials said nearly 2,500 people arrived over the previous 24 hours following a several day lull.

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