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  •   NATO's Latest Target: Yugoslavia's Economy

    A Yugoslav army soldier takes a break from inspecting the wreckage of Serbia's state television headquarters building. (AP)
    By Michael Dobbs
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Sunday, April 25, 1999; Page A1

    BELGRADE, April 24 As the NATO air campaign against Yugoslavia enters its second month, allied bombing has achieved one significant result: the destruction of large chunks of the country's economic infrastructure.

    The economy, already reeling from the effects of eight years of international sanctions and decades of mismanagement, is being dismantled piece by piece. Yugoslav officials say that the damage from NATO bombs has reached the $100 billion mark. By some estimates, the bombing has set Yugoslavia back one or even two decades.

    While NATO air attacks have not loosened the Yugoslav military's stranglehold on the Serbian province of Kosovo and its ethnic Albanian inhabitants, they have devastated targets ranging from the country's two biggest oil refineries, in Pancevo and Novi Sad, to the Zastava factory at Kragujevac, which produced the Yugo car and employed some 15,000 workers. The bombing has cut all but one of the bridges across the Danube River, severely limiting communication between the agricultural region of Vojvodina in the north and the rest of Yugoslavia.

    damaged railroad
    A Yugoslav railway worker stands by a train damaged by a NATO missile attack on a railroad bridge. (Reuters)
    Other targets have included chemical, drug, cigarette, shoe and light aircraft factories, as well as TV transmitters, railway stations and airports.

    The bombings have slowed the country's economic life to a virtual standstill. Schools and universities have been closed and hundreds of thousands of factory workers have been laid off. To save fuel, Belgrade city authorities have reduced the number of public buses from 1,000 to 500. "Even so, most of the buses are virtually empty," said Deputy Mayor Milan Bozic.

    The economic effects of the bombing are clearly visible in Krusevac, a city of 150,000 people that in the 14th century was the capital of an empire that included much of present-day Yugoslavia, Albania and Greece. Today, Krusevac is in a sorry state. With the destruction of its largest factories by NATO bombs, unemployment is escalating and prospects for economic reconstruction seem bleak.

    On April 12, NATO warplanes attacked a heating plant on the edge of the town, reducing it to a smoldering heap of rubble and twisted metal. They went on to hit the region's biggest factory, the October 14 plant, which produced bulldozers, excavators and other heavy machinery. What was left standing was destroyed in a second raid three days later.

    "This was the biggest heavy machinery plant in the Balkans," said Nebojsa Toskovic, the factory's deputy general manager, as he took reporters on a guided tour of the ruins. "Without machinery from this factory, the country will be unable to reconstruct all the bridges and everything else that has been destroyed by NATO."

    bombed bridge
    A view of a damaged bridge over the Danube river in Novi Sad. (AP)
    NATO officials contend that the October 14 plant was producing military materials and was therefore a legitimate target, but they have not produced conclusive evidence to support their claim. Before the old six-republic Yugoslavia began to fragment in 1991, plant managers say there were plans to produce tanks at the factory, but they were abandoned because Serbia did not have access to hundreds of necessary subcomponents.

    People here fail to see how the destruction of the October 14 factory in Krusevac and the nearby heating plant will help advance NATO war aims in Kosovo. Some suspect that the factory was destroyed simply because it was an easy target. It is much easier to hit a fixed target like a factory or a bridge than to go after security forces in Kosovo, who are well hidden and constantly on the move.

    "Nobody can understand why our plant was hit," said Radoslav Savic, director of the coal-fired heating plant, which supplies heat to 50,000 people. "We were not a military target. There was not a single gram of oil inside the plant. The only purpose is to make our people suffer."

    Early Sunday, four missiles struck an industrial district in the city of Nis, the state-run Tanjug news agency reported. It said the explosions caused considerable damage, shattering windows in the center of Yugoslavia's third-largest city, but there were no immediate reports of casualties from the attack. The attack was NATO's seventh on the city since the bombing campaign began March 24. Tanjug also said that NATO fired five missiles at a chemical plant in Lucani in central Serbia.

    In addition, Serbian state television's satellite transmissions ceased early Sunday when NATO planes attacked Yugoslavia's largest transmitter near Belgrade, Reuters news agency reported. NATO had bombed the state television headquarters in central Belgrade early on Friday, and local officials say 15 people were killed.

    Strikes late Saturday and early Sunday also damaged a lodge on Mount Gucevo. The mountain, 65 miles southwest of Belgrade, is the site of a radio and TV relay. The lodge owner was injured and displaced Serbs from Croatia who were staying there had to evacuate, Tanjug said.]

    In recent days, NATO has moved on to what spokesmen describe as "high value" political
    Milosevic home spacer
    Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and his family were not home when his residence was struck in a pre-dawn NATO attack. (AP)

    targets, including Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's official residence, the headquarters of his ruling Socialist Party and Serbian state television. The attacks appear designed to show that NATO has the ability to make life very uncomfortable for Milosevic and the people around him and that it is going after the very foundations of his power.

    Despite more than four weeks of bombing, however, Kosovo remains under the firm control of Yugoslav army and Serbian security forces, ethnic Albanians continue to be driven from their homes and the political position of Milosevic appears stronger than ever.

    There is little evidence that either Milosevic or Serbs in general are about to crack under the strain. Having already lost their jobs and their livelihoods, the workers at the October 14 factory would seem to have little left to lose by further resistance to NATO, and therefore little incentive to support a peace deal that would create what amounts to an international protectorate for Kosovo, which Serbs regard as the cradle of their civilization.

    "This is an attack against the Serb people," said Miroslav Andrejic, a security guard who was on duty the night NATO bombed the October 14 plant. "People are bitter and confused. No one believed that we would be attacked by the West."

    Coming on top of international sanctions, the bombing campaign has provided the Milosevic government with a perfect alibi to explain away the disastrous state of the economy for years to come. During the decade he has been in power
    burning building
    Debris flies from a burning building in Belgrade after it was hit by NATO missiles. (AP)
    first as president of Serbia, which is Yugoslavia's dominant republic, and then as president of Yugoslavia Milosevic has avoided serious economic reform and has kept large sectors of the economy under the control of his Socialist Party cronies. Living standards have declined steadily over this period, but the government has managed to blame the West for many of its own economic blunders.

    The government is already making plans for the economic reconstruction of the country, using domestic resources. Many of these plans are based on Yugoslavia's experience after World War II, when brigades of enthusiastic "volunteers" were mobilized for big projects like the Zagreb-Belgrade highway. Without large-scale investment, however, rebuilding technologically sophisticated plants like the Zastava car factory and the October 14 plant will be difficult.

    "If we get help from our old foreign partners, we might be able to rebuild this factory," said the director of the October 14 plant, Slobodan Milosevic, no relation to the Yugoslav leader. "Without foreign help, it will be impossible."

    © Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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