Intensified bombing has Serbs puzzled over NATO tactics

Attacks on Belgrade will only force stalemate, Yugoslav analysts say

War In Yugoslavia

May 16, 1999|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia -- Once, Knez Milosa street was Yugoslavia's governing heart, where sweeping administrative buildings shared pride of place with embassies from powers great and small, including the United States.

Now, a six-block walk along the tree-lined boulevard is like a journey through NATO's target list.

The Yugoslav army headquarters is a twin pile of scorched junk. Across the street, the Foreign Ministry, which did not take a direct hit, is empty, its windows blown out, the facade and grand columns pockmarked by shrapnel.

Nearby, the Serbian government building stands forlorn, the roof sheared off as if some monster had swallowed the tile, concrete and steel in a huge gulp.

Down by a highway, two Interior Ministry buildings loom like ghostly hulks.

And people here ask: What does this street with these buildings have to do with Kosovo?

"Maybe they think the street is a symbol of power in this nation and maybe what they're trying to show is -- if they destroy the symbol of power, they can destroy everything," says Serbian Health Minister Leposova Milicevic.

As NATO's war against Yugoslavia grinds on, the country is beginning to take stock of the damage, not just along Knez Milosa but throughout Serbia.

And Yugoslav leaders are trying to fathom the reasoning behind the West's target list.

With NATO apparently on course to intensify its air campaign, people are braced for more bombardment. Yet many scoff at NATO's notion that bombing power grids, bridges, television stations and factories will loosen Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's grip on power.

Instead, some here claim that the bombing strengthens the people's resolve.

While Yugoslavia has taken a pounding, with its infrastructure wrecked and economy in ruins, the country is not yet on its knees. And the Yugoslav army shows little sign of leaving Kosovo for good, even though its commanders announced a partial troop withdrawal last week.

NATO tactics, combined with the people's spirit, are leading to a stalemate, according to Yugoslav analysts.

"This is ridiculous, throwing bombs on buildings where you know no one is inside," says Miroslav Lazanski, a military and defense analyst.

Lazanski describes the NATO air campaign as a combination of 21st-century technology with World War II-era tactics of smashing bunkers and buildings.

"They think if they make such huge material damage, they will break the spirit of the people," he says. "People here are not living from concrete."

The list of NATO hits appears impressive, with major factories smashed, oil refineries in flames and rail, road and river links cut.

The Danube River, a vital European economic waterway, is closed to traffic, with five bridges down, including three in Novi Sad, the country's second-largest city.

Fishing in the river is also prohibited because of oil slicks and other pollution caused by the bombing, officials say.

Many here are expecting NATO to target Belgrade's bridges that cross the Sava River and link the central city core with the high-rises in New Belgrade. If that occurs, authorities say, they can quickly build pontoon bridges.

"The guys who are destroying our country are thinking it's the right way. But they don't know how much they don't know," says Radisa Dordevic, general manager of Yugoslavia's inland waterways.

Dordevic acknowledges that "it's a waste, of course, if you lose a factory. But this is no reason to surrender the country."

The country has also shown remarkable ingenuity in quickly patching and repairing the damage. Serbian state television was back on the air hours after being struck in a deadly missile attack.

Attempts to black out the country with strikes against power plants have also been foiled, as technicians made quick repairs and rerouted supplies.

Authorities also cut their losses with obvious targets such as factories and major government buildings, emptying them before NATO struck.

"Government doesn't consist only of buildings," says Goran Matic, a Yugoslav minister. "Our government can work under any conditions in any case."

But some of the government ministers have had close calls. NATO blasted one of the villas used by Milosevic. And Matic and Milicevic were among those who rushed to the Hotel Yugoslavia in the midst of a missile attack.

They thought the strike was over. But they were wrong, as another missile rocked the hotel that is a haunt for an indicted war criminal, Zeljko Raznjatovic, known as Arkan.

Milicevic shows photos of the jeep she was in when the attack came. The windows are smashed and debris lies on the asphalt.

"We are the survivors from the jeep," she says.

NATO's bombing campaign is making her angry.

"We expect them to take everything we like," Milicevic says. "If we like a bridge -- they'll destroy it. If we like another place -- they'll destroy that.

"It makes people angry. [There are] those who like Milosevic or don't like Milosevic -- everyone hates NATO."

And talk that NATO air commanders want to step up the bombing of Belgrade makes her angrier.

"In some way, NATO is a terrorist," she says. "But this is official terrorism without control."

Milicevic says the population will not cower under bombing.

"Am I panicked?" she says. "Am I afraid?"

Pub Date: 5/16/99

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