REPORT FROM THE WAR ZONE: Yugoslavs resolute as bombs fall everywhere

By Sara Flounders and Gloria La Riva
Belgrade, Yugoslavia

May 18, 1999--Tonight at 11:30 p.m. two huge detonations destroyed Yugopetrol's last remaining fuel-storage facility in Belgrade, a little over a mile from our hotel.

We raced to the scene through darkened streets to witness with our own eyes the latest crime of U.S. and NATO forces. The truth is inescapable: this war of aggression on Yugoslavia is a war against the people.

Today at the Clinical Center of Serbia, we witnessed patients with truly horrifying injuries. Dr. Vladimir Yucic was about to leave for the heavily bombed city of Nis to perform emergency surgery on injured patients there. He told us, "I am a specialist in liver surgery. This hospital was about to introduce liver transplants. Instead I'm doing amputations on people wounded by bombs."

Dr. Sonja Pavlovic works in intensive care. She took us to meet Nada, a 15-year-old girl whose legs had been mangled by a cluster bomb. The child's family is Serbian and lives in Kosovo. Because of the relentless bombing there, they sent her by bus to relatives in Montenegro. The bus was hit by a NATO cluster bomb. She is now paralyzed from the waist down, with shrapnel throughout her body.

NATO bombers have a diabolical practice: they drop a second missile minutes after the first, just as rescue teams arrive.

We spoke with two men from civil defense who had gone to rescue workers in the army headquarters in downtown Belgrade. As their vehicle approached the damaged building, a second bomb hit. One of the men whispered in great pain that a co-worker had died when they were blown into the air. He said he knew "in a millisecond" that his own legs had been blown off.

The other patient, Nebojsa Starcevic, has had reconstructive surgery that doctors hope will save his leg.

These two people were courageous not only in their struggle to survive, but in telling us their story and reliving the horror. Belgrade's top official for civil defense was also a patient in the ICU unit.

Dr. Pavlovic said, "These men are truly our heroes because they know of the second bombs and still rush to the scene to recover the wounded and dead."

During the day, people fill the streets of Belgrade and other cities, shopping, going to work. Life seems normal. But when the air-raid sirens go off, their lives can be turned upside down in an instant.

This afternoon at 3 p.m. we stood on a balcony in downtown Belgrade, about to head out to a refugee camp at Rakovica, a suburb 15 minutes away that had recently been

 

bombed. Suddenly the sirens sounded. Within minutes came an announcement that bombs were dropping once again on Rakovica.

Yugoslavia has no high-tech weapons that could possibly take on the Pentagon. So what are NATO's targets?

In 50 days of bombing, NATO's goal has been to break the Yugoslav people's resistance to an army of foreign occupation--the main demand presented by the U.S. at Rambouillet before the bombing began.

The list of NATO military targets includes schools, hospitals, heating plants, communication grids, fertilizer plants to undermine this rich agricultural country, television and radio stations, cultural and religious sites, bus and train stations, and housing units on busy downtown streets.

All government and municipal services, fuel supplies and bridges have been targeted.

To drive from Budapest, Hungary, to Belgrade we had to take back roads. All the main highways, including bridges and overpasses, had been bombed and were impassable.

The countryside is intensely green. Fields have just been planted and new plants peek up in neat rows.

Between Novi Sad and Belgrade, we came on a small gas station still smoldering, flames licking pools of oil. Four laser-guided bombs had hit it just hours before. Gas fumes hung heavily in the air. Two gas pumps plus a small kiosk that sold coffee, crackers and plastic quarts of oil were now melted rubble. Several fuel storage tanks had been twisted into grotesque shapes.

A small house across the way had only two walls left and no roof. A haggard man--the gas station attendant--described how he heard the first bomb hit and fled into the fields. He said, "In one minute, I lost my home, everything I had, and my livelihood."

Local people stood around, looking at the smoking ruins.

Novi Sad was our first stop inside Yugoslavia. Three fine bridges once spanned the Danube River there. The oldest was used by local people in the downtown area. There was a railroad bridge and, further upstream, a new six-lane span for a major highway.

All three bridges have been bombed and now block the Danube, the major waterway of Europe. Some 150 vessels from Germany, Austria, Bulgaria and Romania are stranded at the Yugoslav border. Altogether, 35 major bridges in Yugoslavia have been destroyed or damaged.

The largest and most advanced cardiovascular institute in the Balkans must now be reached by a gerry-rigged ferry boat. A large floating platform or raft with three engines at the stern, it is able to carry several hundred people at a time. Several other smaller ferries and boats shuttle back and forth, trying to make up for the loss of the bridges.

Our hotel in Novi Sad had only cold water. The thermal plant that had provided heat and hot water for the whole city had been bombed. This is an inconvenience in May. It will be life-threatening next January.

The people are calm

Before nightfall, we visited a bombed school. A huge crater devoured what was once the schoolyard. All the windows were gone and the walls were charred.

Yet, after two months of bombing, we found people surprisingly calm even when night falls and the air-raid sirens wail. Conversation continues. People move quietly to the shelters.

The first day in Belgrade we spent touring bombed rubble, from small houses on side streets to the huge thermal plant that provided heat and hot water to all New Belgrade, a modern development of 80,000 new apartments. Now its 350,000 people are without heat or hot water.

The neonatal hospital in downtown Belgrade was a step into a seemingly secure world. Premature and critically ill newborns from all over Yugoslavia are sent here. Some 180 tiny, fragile infants cling to life in incubators and on mechanical ventilators. If the electricity is cut even for a few minutes, many lives will be lost. But backup generators stand by.

Bombings just two blocks away, however, have already rattled and disrupted these sensitively calibrated mechanisms several times.

We met with six doctors. All, including the director of the hospital, were women. All health care in Yugoslavia is free, as is medical school. Since the bombing started, hospital emergency rooms have quadrupled their beds and material.

Defense is well organized

The initial bombings targeted government buildings, but all government ministries had already been moved and evacuated weeks before. Many valuable or life-sustaining supplies have been dispersed widely around the country. Air-raid shelters are well-stocked and marked. Even little children can recite air-raid warning procedures.

Hundreds of thousands of people have been on the move for several years, as Yugoslavia was being dismembered under the pressures of Western imperialism. With many refugees from the Krajina in Croatia, from Bosnia, and now from Kosovo, housing is packed.

Before the bombing, big apartment blocks were going up everywhere. The cranes can still be seen on the skyline. But all work has now been halted.

Even before the latest bombings--the heaviest of the war--half a million jobs had been lost as plants and infrastructure were destroyed. However, the government continues to issue paychecks so no one starves.

We visited Nis, one of the most heavily bombed cities in southern Serbia, just north of the province of Kosovo. The bridge we took coming into the city was blown up just a half hour after we passed over it. We had to take a different route on our return to Belgrade.

Nis is a city of 250,000. We saw destruction to a flour mill, a bus station, and to many little houses all along the road. Huge gasoline holding tanks that provided heating and cooking fuel for 800,000 people in the entire region were destroyed.

In one of the worst crimes, the central market of Nis was hit at noon on May 7. Eleven people were killed and scores injured. A hospital with a red cross clearly marked on the roof was hit with cluster bombs. In one area of a few blocks, 1,300 bomblets were dropped.

Cluster and fragmentation bombs are anti-personnel weapons banned by all international conventions. One bomb full of razor-sharp ribbons of steel can shred an area the size of a football field.

On grassy lawns and pathways, unexploded cluster bombs are marked with bright ribbons and signs so people will avoid stepping on them.

Also bombed was the Greek consulate. As with China, there is tremendous popular sentiment for Yugoslavia in Greece.

At the Nis tobacco factory, a worker named Miloye told us, "Planes are constantly flying overhead but we come to work every day." Asked if he was afraid, he said, "Of course, but we must work because without work there is no life." The factory employs 3,000 workers and has been bombed on three separate occasions.

Miloye spoke about his eight-month-old daughter. "I wonder what her future will be. I hope this will be over so when she grows up to be a woman she can't even remember it."

La Riva and Flounders went to Yugoslavia May 14 with an International Action Center delegation headed by former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark. They were accompanied by Pacifica radio news reporter Jeremy Scahill. La Riva, who also visited Belgrade with Clark in the first week of the bombing, is making a video, "NATO Targets." Flounders is an editor and co-author of the book "NATO in the Balkans." Scahill will be filing twice-daily reports from Yugoslavia to over 200 U.S. radio stations.

 

 

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