NATO blasts civilian sites

Retirement home, sanitarium hit in sloutheast Yugoslavia

At least 16 are killed

Milosevic says attacks imperil peace process

Clinton calls war `test'

War In Yugoslavia

June 01, 1999|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

SURDULICA, Yugoslavia -- NATO missiles blasted a sanitarium and a retirement home in this southern Yugoslavia town yesterday, crushing part of a building, killing at least 16 people and threatening fragile peace efforts.

NATO officials acknowledged striking a military barracks and an ammunition storage area around Surdulica, 220 miles southeast of Belgrade, but did not confirm hitting the civilian sites.

An unconfirmed report said NATO bombers had also hit an apartment building in the densely populated town of Novi Pazar in southwest Serbia, killing at least 10 people and wounding about 20 others.

NATO's targets in Novi Pazar have included a publishing house and regional television and radio headquarters, the Yugoslav state news agency Tanjug said.

Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic condemned the "murdering of civilians" and said the attacks endangered peace initiatives.

Yesterday, the Yugoslav government reiterated that it accepts principles set forth by the Group of Eight major powers for ending the Kosovo conflict.

But Milosevic's latest statement fell short of Western demands for the composition of a peacekeeping force in Kosovo.

In a Memorial Day speech, President Clinton insisted a peace force must have "NATO at its core." He said Kosovo was "a very small province in a small country, but a big test of what we believe in."

NATO spokesman Jamie P. Shea said the alliance would not let Milosevic choose who makes up such a force: "Our position has been clear and I can summarize it as follows: `No NATO, no go.' "

The flow of the refugees continues unabated. Calm waters carried hundreds of would-be refugees across the Adriatic Sea to Italy yesterday, the latest in a growing influx that saw more than 10,000 new arrivals last month.

Smugglers taking advantage of days of flat seas have transported more than 5,500 illegal immigrants in seven days. More than 1,000 crossed over Friday, the largest single-day influx since NATO started bombing March 24.

Yesterday's airstrike was the second major NATO attack on Surdulica in the 69-day-old air campaign to halt Milosevic's "ethnic cleansing" of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo. On April 27, an errant laser-guided NATO missile hit a civilian neighborhood, killing 11 people, including six in one family.

This time, the town's residents weren't shocked when the bombs fell in the early morning darkness.

They grimly assembled rescue teams and pulled broken and bleeding survivors from piles of rubble that lay like smashed building blocks.

They put the bodies of the dead on stretchers, covered them with white tarps, and waited hours for international journalists to arrive as morning turned to afternoon, the late-spring sun beat down and flies gathered.

At least 43 injured

Authorities said 16 people were killed, at least four others were believed to be buried in the rubble, and 43 were injured, including five seriously.

Surdulica was once known for its auto parts, shoes and textile factories. Yesterday, few of the town's 15,000 inhabitants ventured outside to walk among the reminders of the first NATO strike -- stark, black-and-white obituary notices placed on doorposts and telephone poles. Instead, they stood by their doorways or peered from windows as a convoy of cars arrived from Belgrade.

With its military barracks, weapons storage facility and proximity to Kosovo, Surdulica has taken a battering.

The town has endured so many attacks that Momcilo Bogdanovic, a building engineer, has a new trade as a search-and-rescue expert.

With his knowledge of building and his skill in working through rubble, Bogdanovic can help pull the dead and injured from destroyed facilities without risking further injury. It also gives him something to do.

"I was hoping I would start building houses," he said. "This is awful, what I'm doing now."

Yugoslav authorities said two missiles hit the main building of the Special Hospital for Tuberculosis and Pulmonary Diseases, which contained Serbian refugees from Croatia. Two other missiles struck a retirement home within the complex, where 35 elderly people were living, the officials said.

After the attack a few minutes past midnight, Bogdanovic was among the first to respond. Witnesses claimed they heard warplanes circling for an hour before the unmistakable thud of four detonations.

"I felt the human smell and the blood," he said. "There was not such a big fire. There was screaming of the people under the concrete."

Though there was a heavy police presence along one side of the tree-lined entrance road, local officials were quick to point out the vast, wooded hospital grounds on the outskirts of the town had no military use. Military barracks are a half-mile away.

Red cross on the roof

"I'm asking you, why? Why?" said the facility's chief administrator, Srboljub Aleksic, 60. "The hospital had a sign on the roof, the sign of the red cross.

"Only sick civilians and refugees were here. There was no presence of the army at all. We were only curing ill people."

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