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  •   NATO Day Raids Said to Kill Some Civilians

    Smoke rises from a suburb of Pristina, Kosovo, while negotiations for ending the conflict continued. (AP)
    From News Services
    Monday, May 31, 1999; Page 19

    BELGRADE, May 30 NATO missiles hit a bridge in central Serbia crowded with traffic and pedestrians this afternoon, killing nine people and injuring at least 17, the official Yugoslav news agency Tanjug said.

    Intensified bombing on the 68th day of NATO's air war against Yugoslavia also killed a 60-year-old man and wounded his wife and 30 others in the southern Serbian town of Vranje and brought a convoy of foreign journalists traveling in Kosovo under attack, Tanjug reported.

    NATO did not immediately confirm the reports. The alliance has acknowledged killing civilians in previous airstrikes, now in their third month, but insists that all such casualties are unintentional.

    Tanjug said NATO planes fired four missiles at the Velika Morava River bridge in Varvarin, about 100 miles south of Belgrade, shortly after 1 p.m. when many people and vehicles were crossing it.

    Cars reportedly plunged into the river and 15 boats brought rescue teams to search for victims. The attack, the first in the area, cut power and phone lines, the state news agency reported from the scene. The missiles also were said to have inflicted heavy damage to a hotel, a church and the town hall.

    A convoy of foreign journalists traveling in southern Kosovo was hit in a NATO air strike on the road linking Brezovica and Prizren, Tanjug said. Quoting the Serb-run Media Center in the provincial capital of Pristina, Tanjug said a convoy driver was killed and at least three among the journalists French philosopher Daniel Schiffer, Times of London reporter Eve-Ann Prentice and an unidentified Italian newspaper reporter were injured. The injured were taken to a hospital in Prizren. No further details were given.

    The raids reflected increasing daylight strikes by NATO, which has been bombing Yugoslavia since March 24 to cripple its armed forces and infrastructure, including bridges, deemed important to the Serbian war effort in Kosovo.

    The alliance also hit areas near Belgrade in the morning, brushing aside the Serb-led Yugoslav government's reported agreement to great-power principles for ending the conflict.

    NATO wants Yugoslavia to withdraw its troops from Kosovo and let more than 800,000 ethnic Albanian refugees who have fled or been expelled from the province return under the protection of an armed international peacekeeping force.

    NATO spokesman Jamie Shea said today that Yugoslav President Slobodon Milosevic was slowly moving away "from the position . . . of almost total defiance of the international community," but was still far from accepting "without reservation, without negotiation," NATO conditions for ending the air campaign.

    Russian and Yugoslav media reporting on Milosevic's meeting Friday with Russian envoy Viktor Chernomyrdin said Milosevic had accepted in principle the Kosovo peace plan agreed on by the Group of Eight nations the world's seven major industrialized democracies, plus Russia.

    But the reports said Milosevic continues to oppose NATO leading the peacekeeping force something the alliance has demanded.

    In Belgrade, Serbian Minister of Information Aleksandar Vucic said an international presence had never been opposed, but "what cannot be accepted never is the occupation of our territory."

    Chernomyrdin met in Moscow today with Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin and other top officials to map strategy for resolving the Kosovo crisis. Chernomyrdin said later that Yugoslavia's "sovereignty and territorial integrity" remained inviolable, meaning Russia still opposes a well-armed foreign force in Kosovo with a strong NATO component.

    NATO missiles and bombs, meanwhile, crashed into scores of targets throughout Serbia.

    Caught in the latest barrage were Novi Sad, Yugoslavia's second-largest city, in the north, the towns of Smederevo and Kursumlija in central Serbia, Presevo and Vranje in the south, at least a half dozen radio and television transmission towers and industrial outskirts of Nis, the nation's third-biggest city.

    © Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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