Embassy bombing provokes outrage, disbelief in Belgrade

200 Chinese protest

hotel also targeted in early morning raid

War In Yugoslavia

May 09, 1999|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia -- With a basement location opposite the Chinese Embassy, Jasmina Ostojic used to think her small grocery store was in the safest place in town.

But not anymore.

Yesterday, Ostojic cleaned up the mess left by NATO's shocking early morning attack against the Chinese Embassy. Sweeping away glass and straightening her supplies, Ostojic was open for business and open to nearly any idea as to why the deadly strike took place.

"I can't believe they did it," she said. "It must be World War III."

Even in a city now dotted with scorched, crushed and bombed-out buildings, there can still be a NATO attack so incredible, it provokes feelings of fury and disbelief.

The strikes against the Chinese Embassy, and the nearby Yugoslavia Hotel that is a haunt for indicted war criminal Zeljko Raznjatovic, known as Arkan, shook Belgrade to its core.

Once daylight returned, thousands strolled by the two wrecked hulks. Some took pictures. Others simply stopped and stared. And many asked a simple question: Why attack Belgrade to end the crisis in Kosovo?

"Who will pay for all this?" Ostojic said. "We are not guilty for what is happening. It's in Kosovo. It's not here."

But the damage was done. The Chinese Embassy, struck by up to three missiles, was a ghost of a building. One side was sheared off by a blast. Windows were smashed. Cars were damaged. In the back, a deep crater opened a vein to the basement. On one floor, a settee remained in place, undamaged. And an adjacent residence was heavily damaged.

Two bed sheets tied to a Chinese flag still hung from a second-floor window, a chilling reminder of how some workers escaped the bombing and the fire that swept through the building.

Four killed

But others never got out alive. Four were killed, and 21 others were injured, according to authorities here and in Beijing. Hours after the attack, some of the embassy workers checked into a luxury hotel. Their clothes were caked with grime and their hands filthy from picking through rubble in a desperate search for survivors.

Still, Chinese authorities showed they wouldn't flee the city, as they made sure their country's flag flew in front of the embassy.

A march was also held, as 200 Chinese paraded from the embassy into the city center, coaxed along by the gentle applause from passers-by. "Is This Really A Mistake?" read one sign carried by a demonstrator. Another sign read: "NATO! Stop Giving Drugs To Your Soldiers."

"People are very, very angry," said Mirko Roncevic, a construction executive whose firm placed two elevators in the embassy. "If we are having a war, we would like to see our enemy. This is cowardice to bomb in the night. Let's see who is bombing us."

Roncevic stood at the embassy gates, a video camera in hand, filming the scorched wreckage.

"Unfortunately, this is a very bad occasion for us, and a very bad experience," he said. "We have to pass through it to survive so we can have our country."

A hundred yards away at the Yugoslav Business Center, people were clearing away smashed glass and other debris left by the blast.

"I suppose it could have been a mistake, but who knows?" said Vesna Dimitrivec, broom in hand, clearing away the last of the debris by a sewing shop.

"It is unbelievable to me that someone dared attack the Chinese Embassy," she said.

No reason to surrender

Dimitrivec admitted the attack left her nervous, but said the country would not be deterred.

"This is nothing to surrender for," she said. "This is our country and people are trying to pull it apart. This is not the way to achieve this goal."

Looking at the wreckage of the embassy, Dimitrivec said, "It is to me something like a natural catastrophe, like a tornado, but imposed by unnatural causes."

Marina Rakic was also shaken. The 41-year-old was sleeping in her furniture store at the time of the attack, figuring it was safer there than a bomb shelter. But after the attack, she vowed to head for the basement next time.

"It's impossible to shell an embassy," she said. "No one was expecting that."

Over at the Hotel Yugoslavia, the mood was a little different. Workers weren't nervous, they were angry, as they hauled off computers and swept away glass.

The lobby was a wreck, the kitchen was destroyed and a parking lot was littered with rubble that smashed a fleet of new cars at a Nissan dealership.

And Arkan's casino, which used to lure Belgrade's elite, was shut down. There wasn't a gaming table in sight as workers trudged around on the dirty carpet.

Western spokesmen claimed the hotel is a base for Arkan's Tigers, a notorious paramilitary group that is alleged to be involved in atrocities in Kosovo, a charge its leader denies.

"Is it possible they hit the hotel just because of me? Am I so important?" said Arkan, dressed in a black suit and T-shirt, and aviator sunglasses.

He added, "We want real democracy, but not by Tomahawk."

Pub Date: 5/09/99

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