In Belgrade, civilians worry as war expands

As bombs fall closer, citizens scold NATO, fear for their children

War In Yugoslavia

May 04, 1999|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia -- First the power was extinguished. Then the water dried up.

Now Belgrade's citizens are wondering what NATO has in store for them as the 6-week-old air war accelerates to a new, more potent phase.

When NATO zapped Yugoslavia's main power grid Sunday night and doused the lights for up to eight hours in 70 percent of Serbia, it struck at the heart of civilian life.

Some lights came on by daybreak, and many taps finally spewed cold water. But people felt vulnerable and angry as everything from traffic lights to elevators to the pumps that supply water for Belgrade shut down.

"I'm not afraid for myself, but I'm very scared for the little babies and kids who will stay in the dark in the next few nights," said Lidija Ilic, a 28-year-old medical student.

Yesterday, power was a sometime thing, flickering on and off, affecting hospitals, homes and restaurants. Authorities said power had been restored to 40 percent of the city by 1: 30 p.m. Yet 90 minutes later, the lights went out.

Belgrade's hospitals had backup generators, but there were fears that auxiliary power would fall victim to a growing fuel shortage.

"They want to make our lives impossible," said Serbia's health minister, Leposava Milicevic. "They want to ruin our lives. Directly by killing. Indirectly by ruining the power supply, the water, the factories.

"They kill Earth, rivers, air, even birds," she said.

Who do the people blame?

According to NATO's civilian spokesman, Jamie P. Shea, they should blame Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, who continues to reject Western demands to end the Kosovo crisis.

"I think most people now are weary of this, and they know this is something Milosevic has imposed on them," Shea said at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium. "They know now that it's only if Milosevic accepts the five key conditions that this is going to stop.

"I would hope he would start getting some echoes up from the grass roots over the next couple of weeks, particularly with more and more brave opposition leaders having the courage to speak out," Shea said.

But in Belgrade, people are furious at the Western alliance.

"Everybody hates NATO, more and more and more," Milicevic said.

"It's cynical," said Belgrade's deputy mayor, Milan Bozic. "They're saying, OK, we will not throw the bomb on your head, but we'll kill you by suffocation."

The anger of Belgrade officials was matched by many people.

"NATO is beginning to hit civilian targets, and I expect we will be short of water, power and who knows what else," said Tamir Stojamovic, a 40-year-old salesman and father of two.

"This war is beginning to be completely aimed at civilians," he added. "I think NATO's approach is counterproductive. You cannot solve problems hitting water supplies and power plants. NATO is making a bigger humanitarian catastrophe then I can imagine."

Olga Pavic, a 77-year-old grandmother, has seen far worse. "I survived the 1941 [German] bombing, but I was living almost three months without power," she said. "I will survive this time, but I am most concerned about young people."

Jelena Tacic, 16, a fresh-faced student on the main shopping street, said her 7-year-old sister had been "crying all night."

"Our mom was lying to her," Tacic said. "She told her that we didn't have any spare light bulbs and that's why it was so dark in our room. We were very scared."

Nenad Bujic, 39, an auto mechanic, worried how the blackout would affect his 7-year-old daughter.

"The only time I felt sorry for losing the power was when I saw my child's tears," he said. "We are sitting in the dark. She is crying and I am helpless. I only wish to American people that all of these horrible things happen to them. Then they will realize how horrible it is to sit in the dark with your crying kids, while you're praying to God."

In Valjevo, 55 miles west of the capital, citizens were clearing the wreckage of another NATO strike gone awry. Missiles rained down on a neighborhood Sunday night, leveling two apartment houses and blowing out windows and ripping brickwork from scores of homes. It was the seventh strike against the city that houses the Krusik factory, which makes ammunition and hydraulic equipment. At least 20 missiles flattened what was left of the factory.

Fourteen people were wounded, but no one was killed, authorities said.

"I've lost everything," said Radica Vujinovic, a 31-year-old mother of two who was piling what was left of her possessions in the mud. She saved table linens, two suitcases and a doll, as workers tossed cracked lumber and glass from what was once her apartment. "Thank God no one was killed."

Wearing a wool sweater on a hot day, Milivoje Marjanovic coolly described the attack.

"Some of the people said that you could reach the planes by hand," Marjanovic said. "It was the sound. They were low."

When the raid ended, he assessed the stunning damage left behind in his neighborhood. He had lost electricity and water, but at least he still had a home.

Pub Date: 5/04/99

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