NATO Bombs Hit Montenegro Homes
By William Booth
PODGORICA, Yugoslavia, April 29 – The republic of Montenegro, Serbia's smaller partner in the Yugoslav federation, suffered its first civilian casualties of the NATO bombing campaign during allied airstrikes against the airport Wednesday and today that also severely damaged homes and property in a nearby village.
The airstrikes, the heaviest in Montenegro since NATO bombing began last month, rattled the West-leaning government here, which again appealed to the alliance to stop bombing the republic out of concern the attacks are increasing popular support for pro-Serbian parties that back Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.
An elderly woman died instantly from a shrapnel wound in the head, according to her son, as she fled what appeared to be cluster bombs that fell Wednesday afternoon on the village of Gosici, a few miles from the airport. Three other residents were injured in the attack.
At one farmer's house, the front door was filled with shattered glass and the plaster walls were pocked with holes the size of a fist from pill-sized pieces of shrapnel that came flying through the windows and raining down from the roof. Directly beneath the shrapnel damage was a bassinet covered with a blanket of blue clouds and yellow dust. When the bomb hit, an 18-month-old baby was sleeping there. The child was not injured.
While NATO occasionally has struck military targets in Montenegro, the airstrikes Wednesday and early this morning were the most severe yet. Dozens of bombs exploded near the capital, around the civilian and military airports, with deep resounding concussions that rattled the windows. The clear, moonlight sky was filled with the red streamers of Yugoslav army antiaircraft fire.
NATO officials said allied warplanes conducted 30 airstrikes against the military airfield in Podgorica, Montenegro's capital, where the Yugoslav air force is believed to have regrouped aircraft driven from their main bases during bombing of airfields in Serbia. The airport reportedly has a large, fortified hangar where air force jets are parked.
Speaking in Brussels, NATO spokesman Jamie Shea said the presence of Yugoslav Super Galeb planes and other aircraft just a short distance from the Albanian border, where U.S. forces are assembling, were a legitimate target. "We support the democratically elected government of Montenegro and want to spare its people from any harm, but NATO has no other choice but to protect its own military from any threat posed by Yugoslav forces responsible for carrying out the repression in Kosovo," Shea said.
The Montenegrin government of President Milo Djukanovic has been trying to stay out of the conflict over Kosovo, a province of Serbia. It has been walking a tightrope, condemning the NATO bombings one moment and then attacking the Milosevic government for its aggression against the ethnic Albanian majority in Kosovo and for its provocations in Montenegro, where the Yugoslav army has tried to usurp the power of the civilian government.
The targets of the airstrikes Wednesday and today were the Golubovci airport about five miles from downtown Podgorica. More than a dozen conventional bombs appeared to hit the area around the airport, though the Yugoslav army would not allow reporters to visit the site today. Some Montenegrin officials, who also have not visited the site, said they heard the airport was nearly destroyed.
In Gosici, there were small craters around the home of Svetozar Andjusic, where the bombs hit, each about three feet in diameter. Nearby were hundreds of shrapnel hits. From a cement-block wall, one of Andjusic's friends dug out a piece of a bomb – a little gray metal square about the size of a fingernail. In Andjusic's vineyard was an unexploded yellow canister about a foot long with a parachute attached to its tip. The Montenegrin media and government have been calling the devices "cluster bombs."
"I have never lied in my life. This is what happened here. Look at the holes. Look at the bombs," said Andjusic, who works at a nearby aluminum factory.
Andjusic called President Clinton "a madman" and challenged him to pick up a rifle and come over and fight the army of Montenegro – not to bomb farmhouses on a warm spring day. On his sunny terrace, Andjusic had laid out a spread of smoked meats and cheese, each pierced with a toothpick, and a carafe of rakija, a fiery clear brandy. He invited a couple of American reporters to have a drink. "You are welcome," he said. "Clinton is not."
Residents believe the death toll would have been higher if most of the villagers had not been attending a funeral during the afternoon attack. "That old man who died saved us," said Kovacevic Vasilije.
The front yard of Vasilije's house was riddled with a dozen small bomb craters, and two cars were pocked with holes. One had caught fire. At another home, walls and windows were scarred with more than a 100 hits of shrapnel.
The mayor of Podgorica, Mihailo Buric, visited the scene today, stopping at Vasilije's house. "I asked them, how are you? What damage has been done? And they said there's been no damage, because by this he means his family is alive. His house, though, has been badly damaged," Buric said.
© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company