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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Serbs Say Hospital, Market Bombed




BELGRADE, Yugoslavia -- NATO said Friday that the Yugoslav military in Kosovo was largely contained after 44 days of air raids but Serbian officials said bombs also crashed into a hospital and outdoor market, killing 15 people and wounding 70.


Cranking up pressure on Serbian security forces and their supply infrastructure, NATO underlined that a new peace plan for Kosovo agreed to Thursday by seven leading Western nations and Russia did not herald an end to bombing as long as Belgrade did not accept its terms.


The fate of thousands of refugees from Serbia's shattered Kosovo province who tried to reach Macedonia this week was as unclear as the status of the impoverished country's border with Yugoslavia.


The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, or UNHCR, said Friday that the border was officially open but only those with papers for Macedonia or enough money to buy their way across had been let through.


The holding camp at Blace, the main crossing point from Kosovo, was eerily empty.


One theory was that Serbian and Macedonian police had for some reason agreed to halt the flow of refugees.


"It's obviously agreed between them," said one senior aid worker who has been observing the crisis closely.


NATO launched its most sustained attacks so far on Yugoslavia's third largest city, Nis, a major industrial hub of 250,000 people, a day after strikes on fuel depots caused huge fires there, residents and Serbian media said.


Air raids early Friday targeted Nis' airport. But just before midday the city's main hospital complex and outdoor market came under NATO bombardment and 15 people were killed and 70 injured, local doctors and municipal officials said.


"There is nothing military within a kilometer of it," Nis Mayor Zoran Zivkovic said by telephone from the city, 230 kilometers south of Belgrade, the capital.


"Cluster bombs hit the market, nearby buildings look like Swiss cheese."


Zivkovic said NATO blasted the main hospital's pathology unit, a parking lot and the main university building.


A Reuters news team that went to Nis saw three bloody corpses in a street covered with debris. One was of an old woman killed by shrapnel as she carried home carrots from the market.


Police said there were about 20 unexploded cluster bombs in the area. Reporters were told to keep to the middle of the street.


At least 30 houses in the Nis suburb of Medosevac were destroyed or heavily damaged in an airstrike earlier Friday, local district chief Jovan Zlatic said.


"Look for yourselves and make your own judgments," Zlatic told reporters. "They have destroyed this city without mercy. They did it with a clear conscience but without a sound mind."


At its headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, NATO said it had attacked a radio relay station and an airfield in Nis but had no indication that bombs also crashed on the hospital and market.


"I've seen press reports on that. We are checking," NATO military spokesman General Walter Jertz said.


"For sure I can tell you we did not target civilian hospitals. We do not target any civilian targets whatsoever. We will be very honest. If anything has gone wrong we will address it," he added.


Belgrade has repeatedly accused NATO of aiming at civilian areas to terrorize Serbs. NATO denies it, saying only militarily relevant targets are in its gunsights but that bombs could occasionally go astray, causing civilian casualties.


The latest round of NATO strikes also hit a railway bridge on the main Belgrade-Bucharest line, the hometown of President Slobodan Milosevic and a television mast already struck twice, according to Serbian media and residents.


In Brussels, NATO briefers told reporters Serbian security forces were now largely pinned down in Kosovo with allied aircraft in action around the clock attacking tanks, artillery emplacements, anti-aircraft guns and border posts.


They said fixed, strategic targets were also pounded despite cloud cutting visibility, including the Horgos bridge in eastern Serbia, petroleum depots in Nis, Prahovo and Pirane, an ammunition dump at Surdulica and three airfields.


In Belgrade, public transportation was running normally for the first time in days after electricity was restored following NATO attacks on power plants that blacked out much of the country.


Seven major Western powers and Russia - the Group of Eight - on Thursday agreed on principles of strategy for resolving the Kosovo crisis in their first meeting since NATO began bombing Yugoslavia on March 24.


The G-8 foreign ministers called for Yugoslav troops to leave Kosovo and to be replaced by an armed international force.


U.S. President Bill Clinton welcomed Russia's endorsement of a foreign security presence in Kosovo and said it was a "significant step" toward resolving the conflict.


Clinton said NATO would not change strategy and would pursue an aggressive air campaign to give teeth to emerging diplomacy.


U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott is to fly to Moscow next week to start talks on details of a peace plan.


President Boris Yeltsin broadly approved the G-8 decision and his Balkans envoy Viktor Chernomyrdin prepared for a fresh round of shuttle diplomacy, officials in Moscow said. But Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov warned that a force in Kosovo could not include NATO troops, as demanded by the alliance, without Belgrade's agreement.


The Yugoslav government has not reacted to the plan although one minister called for more details.


Milosevic has said he would accept only a non-NATO force with defensive sidearms, a stand rejected by NATO because it says returning ethnic Albanians would not feel safe.


NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana said Friday that Milosevic should accept the peace plan.


"If he does not accept it, [the alliance] will have to impose it by the same measures as we have used so far," he said in a Spanish radio interview.


In Albania's border mountains where it marshals forces and supplies, the Kosovo Liberation Army welcomed the G-8 peace principles for Kosovo.


The KLA signed up to a proposal at a March peace conference in France that would have granted Kosovo's majority ethnic Albanians substantial autonomy but still within Serbia. Milosevic rejected the plan.