Errant allied bomb strikes Belgrade hospital, killing 4

NATO raid on capital is first since allies hit Chinese Embassy

War In Yugoslavia

May 21, 1999|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia -- For nearly two weeks, the war was heard off in the distance, faint echoes of bombs landing on suburban military targets or clinical reports of damage sustained inside Kosovo.

With the respite, spring seemed to return to Belgrade, where people thronged the streets during the day, and cafes and discos began opening at night.

But early yesterday morning, NATO's air war returned with a vengeance.

The sky glowed with anti-aircraft fire and bombs began falling, including one that struck the grounds of Dragisa Misovic hospital, killing three patients and a security guard.

The war hadn't gone away; it had simply receded in Belgrade after NATO bombs struck the Chinese Embassy on May 7.

Now the war returned, striking a hospital complex that lies a few hundred yards away from a string of military barracks. Serbian authorities said the hospital had sustained some damage in three previous attacks against the barracks.

But this time, it sustained a direct hit.

According to a NATO spokesman, eight laser-guided bombs were dropped in yesterday's attack that occurred about 1 a.m. One bomb overflew its target by 1,500 feet.

NATO would not confirm it hit the hospital, nor did it confirm the other collateral damage: the nearby homes of three European ambassadors -- Spanish, Swedish and Norwegian.

Yet as workers cut down battered trees and plowed away rubble, it was clear that the hospital had sustained a lethal strike, with a 6-foot-deep crater at the base of what had been the neurological wing, where the three patients were killed.

"They could not escape, could not protest, they could just die without a voice," said Serbian Health Minister Leposova Milicevic.

Other buildings damaged

The building was a wreck, one corner torn away from the roof to ground level. Twisted metal, ripped wires and smashed concrete mixed with shredded medical supplies and wrecked beds.

Other buildings on the grounds sustained damage, including the maternity ward, which was filled with mothers and babies.

Oil caked a muddy road that linked the hospital with the military barracks. Packed in the mud were shell casings, bullets, green camouflage cloth and bits of green wood. A hospital employee said military vehicles were routinely parked at the site.

Asked about the bullets, Milicevic said, "I have no information about the weaponry used by people engaged in the security perimeter of the hospital. No medical facility is used as a location by army or police. It is strictly forbidden."

`Targets are civilians'

Serbian authorities expressed outrage that the hospital was hit.

"The primary targets are civilians -- helpless civilians," Milicevic said.

At the site, Dr. Miodrag Lazic, head of the urology unit, recalled what happened as the bomb struck.

"I have to tell you it was really horrific -- terrible," he said. "The building where I was, I just heard a huge noise of windows being broken, doors blown out. I ran over to the other side. I saw two nurses were up on a staircase. They were panicked. They were frightened.

"They had to improvise, to bring them down from a height," he added. "There was the very sight of killed people. The corpses lying around were abhorrent."

2 sons are born

Even as patients and staff were evacuated, women were giving birth.

Ten minutes before the strike, Aleksandra Rancic gave birth by Caesarean section to a son, Luka.

Another woman, Marija Valjak, had a harrowing delivery. Trapped in an elevator after the attack, she was finally freed and gave birth to a son, Andrea.

At the time of the attack Ruzica Dimic was with her newborn daughter, Ognjen, which means fire. With 39 others from the maternity wing, she was transferred to the Narondni Front hospital.

Yesterday afternoon, with her daughter nestled in her arms, Dimic told reporters, "Our babies are heroes."

Pub Date: 5/21/99

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