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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia Upbeat on Possible Shift by Milosevic

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia -- Russia showed renewed optimism about a solution to the Kosovo crisis Monday as its Balkans envoy prepared for a new diplomatic mission and European Union ministers gathered to seek ways to end the conflict.

But as NATO airstrikes against Yugoslavia continued for a 69th day, Belgrade said alliance bombs had killed at least 16 people in a sanatorium and retirement home in the southeast of the country.

The official Radio Serbia network said NATO warplanes struck the sanatorium in Surdulica early Monday, with two missiles hitting a retirement home on the grounds and a pavilion where refugees were housed.

There was no independent confirmation of the attack.

NATO acknowledged striking a military barracks in the area and said it had no confirmation of casualties. But journalists taken to the city of Surdulica saw a scene of devastation, with 11 bodies lying under sheets outside the shattered complex and five others, those of elderly women, on stretchers in front of the retirement home.

The attack followed reports that another 11 civilians were killed Sunday afternoon when NATO missiles sent a bridge in central Serbia crashing into a river.

The Yugoslav government condemned the attacks and said they jeopardized fragile peace efforts. President Slobodan Milosevic's government reiterated that it accepted the principles set forth by the Group of Eight major powers for ending the Kosovo conflict.

"Massacres and crimes which NATO intensifies daily represent the most serious threat to the world public and undermine the initiated peace efforts,'' said a statement from Milosevic's office.

In Moscow, Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin said he saw real chances of an end to the crisis over Belgrade's crackdown on majority ethnic Albanians in the southern Serbian province.

"Real chances are appearing for breaking the deadlock on Yugoslavia," Itar-Tass quoted Stepashin as saying after talks in the Kremlin with President Boris Yeltsin.

Special Balkans envoy Viktor Chernomyrdin, who held talks in Belgrade on Friday with Milosevic, was expected to fly to Bonn, Germany, on Tuesday to meet with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott and Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, a spokesman at Chernomyrdin's office said.

The three envoys were expected to have dinner with German Chancellor Gerhard Schr?der. Russian media said that Chernomyrdin and Ahtisaari might then fly to Belgrade for more talks with Milosevic.

Stepashin said Chernomyrdin's last meeting with Milosevic had delivered "positive progress."

Chernomyrdin declared himself "very pleased" with the talks and Yugoslav media said Milosevic had accepted general principles agreed by G-8 - the seven major Western powers and Russia - for an end to NATO bombing.

Conditions include an immediate end to fighting in Kosovo, the withdrawal of Yugoslav forces from the province, the return of all ethnic Albanian refugees and deployment of an international force to protect them.

Britain's Financial Times reported in its Monday edition that Milosevic had significantly shifted his position by agreeing for the first time to the principle of allowing some NATO troops into Kosovo.

Russian and Yugoslav media reporting on last week's meeting between Milosevic and Chernomyrdin said the Yugoslav president had accepted in principle the G-8 plan. But the reports indicated Milosevic continues to oppose NATO having a leading role in a peacekeeping force, something the alliance insists on.

The Belgrade government's statement Monday reiterated its acceptance of proposals put forward at the Chernomyrdin-Milosevic meeting, saying they were "aimed at halting the aggression against Yugoslavia, the return of peace and the achievement of a political settlement for Kosovo.''

European Union foreign ministers, meeting Monday in Brussels, issued a statement demanding that Milosevic translate his vague words into concrete action.

Britain, like the United States, says it has seen no real shift in Milosevic's position after Friday's meeting with Chernomyrdin, but France and Germany have proposed that the G-8 meet to consider the Yugoslav leader's reported acceptance of the plan.

The NATO strike on the Surdulica sanatorium came after a devastating daylight attack Sunday on a bridge crowded with market-day traffic and pedestrians in central Serbia that killed 11 people and wounded at least 17.

At NATO headquarters in Brussels, alliance spokesman Jamie Shea said jets had struck a military barracks in Surdulica. "I want to stress this was a designated, legitimate military target. The information I have so far is that that military target was hit accurately,'' he said.

Surdulica was the scene of an errant missile strike April 27 that Serbian media said killed 20 civilians in a residential area. NATO said at the time that a laser-guided missile had veered off course from its intended target, an army barracks.

The alliance has acknowledged killing civilians in its air campaign but insists all such casualties are unintentional.

NATO said four aircraft attacked the bridge near Krusevac about 1 p.m. It contended that the span was a legitimate military target, and said it was unable to confirm the reports of casualties.

Shea said NATO did not have any evidence to link its bombing to an attack near a convoy of Western journalists in Kosovo on Sunday. Yugoslav media said a driver was killed and two people were hurt. The injured were identified as French philosopher and humanist Daniel Schiffer and Times of London reporter Eve-Ann Prentice, Tanjug said. The paper said Prentice apparently had left a hospital and was making her way back to Pristina, Kosovo's capital, on Monday.