Missiles Hit Chinese Embassy
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, May 8, 1999; Page A1
BELGRADE, May 8 (Saturday) – NATO missiles plowed into the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade during a ferocious allied bombardment Friday that also struck the Interior Ministry and army headquarters and again plunged the capital city into darkness.
The official New China News Agency reported that two staff members were killed, two were missing and more than 20 injured.
The strike on the embassy, which NATO acknowledged and said it regretted early today, seemed likely to complicate Western efforts to secure a diplomatic settlement to the Kosovo conflict and to raise new strains in U.S.-Chinese relations.
The government in Beijing, which has opposed the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia since it began 46 days ago, is a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, which means it could veto the peace framework the United States, its leading allies and Russia agreed to Thursday and want the council to approve. China called the council members into session today to consider the embassy bombing but the United States said the airstrikes would not stop, Reuters news agency reported.
Earlier Friday, NATO cluster bombs struck a residential neighborhood and hospital grounds in Nis, Yugoslavia's third-largest city, killing at least 14 civilians and wounding 30 others. NATO said later that it was "highly probable that a weapon went astray and hit civilian buildings" during an attack on a nearby airfield.
Chinese television carried an extensive report on the bombing during its noon newscast. A somber announcer read an official statement condemning the "gross violation of China's sovereignty." The statement said "the U.S.-led NATO attack used three missiles from different directions to attack China's embassy in Yugoslavia."
During the newscast, embassy officials were shown milling around the heavily damaged building with Chinese television correspondents describing the scene of destruction. In answer to questions of why NATO would bomb a Chinese embassy one reporter noted that other buildings were targeted in the general vicinity.
The Chinese news agency said one of the dead was Shao Yunhuan, one of its reporters. Agency correspondents are government employees. Shao was married to a Chinese diplomat. The other fatality is yet to be identified, the agency said.
There were inconsistent reports about casualties. The central government statement initially said more than 20 were injured. Later in the program a correspondent based in Belgrade said there were seven confirmed injuries.
China's ambassador to the U.N., Qin Huasun, termed the bombing "barbarian," according to the Chinese news agency.
"We are greatly shocked by reports of NATO's bombing of the Chinese Embassy. We strongly condemn NATO's act and express our indignity," Qin said.
"NATO should be held responsible for all consequences," he added, and repeated China's call for an immediate halt to the bombing.
At NATO headquarters in Brussels, alliance officials said that while each target was "meticulously planned" to minimize civilian loss of life, they acknowledged the strike on the embassy.
"NATO regrets any damage to the embassy or injuries to Chinese diplomatic personnel," a statement said.
What NATO called its "most concentrated attack to date" on Belgrade began shortly before midnight Friday, rocking the city with powerful explosions that echoed through the streets and rattled windows. NATO officials said targets included the Dobanovci command complex – a residence of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic – which includes a major underground bunker complex that alliance officials say is now the center of his command operations. Another target was the Hotel Jugoslavia, a location used as a barracks by a paramilitary group commanded by Zeljko Raznatovic, better known as Arkan.
Firetrucks converged on the two-story Chinese Embassy building, which was engulfed in smoke. The embassy is in New Belgrade, a modern district that includes some government buildings, including the Yugoslav Federal Building, which houses the prime minister's offices.
Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon said NATO authorities were investigating the Chinese Embassy bombing but could provide no details. "It is a heavy night [of bombing] in Belgrade," Bacon said, with the attacks focusing on "power facilities and command and control targets."
Friday's attacks on Belgrade broke a four-day period of relative calm in the capital and concluded a day of relentless allied bombing across the country. At about 9:25 p.m. (3:25 p.m. EDT), power went out all over Belgrade, the result of an apparent hit on the city's electric power grid. Antiaircraft fire lit up the clear night sky.
Despite Thursday's agreement by seven Western powers and Russia – the Group of Eight – to seek U.N. Security Council support for a broad peace framework, NATO has pledged to step up its aerial campaign until Milosevic agrees to withdraw Serbian soldiers, police and paramilitary groups from the embattled Serbian province of Kosovo, the focus of the conflict. Serbia is Yugoslavia's dominant republic.
Yugoslav Prime Minister Momir Bulatovic on Friday gave a modestly positive assessment of the Group of Eight plan, which, in addition to a Serbian withdrawal, calls for the deployment of international peacekeepers in Kosovo and the disarmament of secessionist ethnic Albanian rebels that have been battling Serbian forces there.
"The outcome from the G-8 is a step in a good direction," Bulatovic said in an interview at his office here. "Most important for us is the reemergence of the role of the United Nations." However, Bulatovic said a condition for progress is "immediate cessation of the NATO bombing campaign."
In part to get Russia's agreement, the Group of Eight left unclear the composition of the proposed peacekeeping force and the conditions for its deployment. The United States has insisted that the force have a strong NATO component and be well armed, but Russia says NATO troops should not take part without the consent of the Yugoslav government.
Bulatovic reiterated his government's position that NATO could not be part of any international force, arguing that it had lost "credibility" because of the airstrikes. He also said the force could be made up of unarmed international monitors, not armed troops.
Bulatovic acknowledged some concern that Russia, the Serbs' traditional ally, had joined NATO in endorsing the peace framework. But, he added, he was confident Russia "will not act as an American postman."
The morning interview was cut short by word that air raid sirens were about to go off. "This building is a target," Bulatovic said. "We believe a large number of targets will be hit today."
The Kosovo Liberation Army also rejected key parts of the peace plan Friday. Bilal Sherifi, a senior KLA foreign affairs official, told reporters in Tirana, Albania, that the guerrilla force opposed provisions in the plan calling for the rebels' disarmament and guaranteeing continued Yugoslav sovereignty over Kosovo.
President Clinton, meanwhile, promoted a Bosnia-style model for the proposed international force in which different powers would control various sectors of Kosovo, which is about the size of Connecticut.
In a brief appearance before reporters before leaving Washington on a trip to Texas, Clinton was asked if it was essential that an American commander be in charge of the Kosovo force. Clinton did not answer directly. But he cited Bosnia, where a U.N.-authorized NATO force is under U.S. command, and control on the ground is divided into U.S., British and French sectors. Russia participates with forces in the American sector.
Clinton administration officials have said they would be opposed to letting Russia have its own sector in Kosovo. Clinton did not address this in detail, but broadly endorsed the idea of Russia and Ukraine participating in the force.
"I think it will work best if we have a system like we had in Bosnia where there was U.N. approval and NATO was at the core of the force," he said, adding that, while diplomacy is underway, "I don't want to prejudge all the details."
Russia's Balkans envoy, former prime minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, who is expected to travel to Belgrade soon to meet with Serbian officials, called the Group of Eight plan "a very good basis for a peaceful settlement."
"This does not mean that all this will be included word for word either in a [U.N.] Security Council resolution – it does not mean that," Chernomyrdin said. "This does not mean that the Yugoslav side will agree to it straightforwardly. It does not mean that. Work is needed. However, the basis is good."
The airstrikes "should have been stopped yesterday," he added. "Or rather they never should have been started."
U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan Friday appointed former Swedish prime minister Carl Bildt and Slovak Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan as his special envoys to seek a resolution of the Kosovo crisis.
Near Pristina, the body of ethnic Albanian intellectual leader Fehmi Agani was found by police early today, the official Tanjug news agency reported. He had been arrested by Serbian police on Thursday, people close to his family said.
Agani, a sociology professor who had been on the Kosovo negotiating team at peace talks in France this spring, had been in hiding in Pristina, the Kosovo capital. He was either changing apartments or attempting to flee, according to different reports, when he was seized by Serbian police. Agani was with his wife and older son, who reportedly were told to leave Kosovo or they would be killed.
Agani's body was found in the village of Lipjan about 12 miles south of Pristina. Tanjug blamed the killing on the Kosovo Liberation Army.
In Washington, Pentagon officials announced the call-up of an additional 2,789 reservists, bringing the total summoned since last week to more than 5,000, all part of a major boost in air power being sent to the region. Late Thursday, Defense Secretary William S. Cohen authorized the dispatch of 176 more warplanes to Europe to join escalating NATO air raids on Yugoslavia, raising the total U.S. force in the operation to more than 800 jets. The planes – including 80 refueling aircraft, 18 tank-busting A-10s and dozens of fighter jets – are part of a request for about 300 extra aircraft made last month by Gen. Wesley K. Clark, NATO's top commander.
A senior Clinton administration official said NATO warplanes were now flying 700 sorties a night. After spending an "enormously frustrating" two to three weeks early in the campaign attacking Serbian air defenses, the official said, allied aircraft are "now able to fly pretty much at will."
Staff writers John F. Harris, Bradley Graham and Dana Priest in Washington and correspondents Steven Pearlstein in Brussels, John Ward Anderson in Tirana, Albania, Anne Swardson in Skopje, Macedonia, and Michael Laris in Beijing contributed to this report.
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