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Crisis in Yugoslavia

Groups Protest Fatal Bombing of TV Facilities

April 24, 1999|PAUL RICHTER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — A deadly NATO missile strike on Serbian government radio and television facilities brought protests Friday from groups saying that news organizations--even state-run media broadcasting propaganda--should be immune from wartime attack.

The overnight bombing of Radio and Television Serbia (RTS) in Belgrade, which killed 10, wounded 18 and left 20 people missing, was justified by NATO officials as an attack on a pivotal part of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's repressive regime.

But Amnesty International in Washington asked NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana for an "urgent explanation" of why such a target had been hit.

And the Committee to Protect Journalists in New York sent Solana a letter of protest.

"NATO's decision to target civilian broadcast facilities not only increases the danger for reporters now working in Yugoslavia, but permanently jeopardizes all journalists as noncombatants in international conflicts as provided for in the Geneva Convention," wrote Ann Cooper, the group's executive director.

The committee's editorial director, Alice Chasan, said NATO could not assert that the operation was fair game simply because it was a propaganda organ.

"That definition is too slippery," she charged. "It is possible for anyone to decide to target whoever they choose as a propaganda media. . . . We have called upon them to clarify the policy."

At the meeting of NATO leaders in Washington, Italian Foreign Minister Lamberto Dini told some reporters that the bombing was "terrible" and asserted that it was not "part of the plan" approved by national representatives to the Western alliance.

"I disapprove," he said.

Later, however, Italian Prime Minister Massimo D'Alema, in remarks to reporters, sought to minimize the issue.

In Podgorica, the capital of the Yugoslav republic of Montenegro, a speaker from Radio and Television Serbia told a rally Friday that some of his colleagues were still alive in the rubble.

"Twenty of my friends and colleagues are gone," said Nikola Bozinovic, a cameraman for the station. "The last time I talked to my office, two or three hours ago, they told me people are still crying for help from the rubble.

"Although we were told we were going to be a target, our colleagues were at work every single night," Bozinovic said. "We were scared too. We're only human. But still, we were doing our job the best possible way."

The bomb attack knocked the station off the air for a few hours. It began rebroadcasting Friday morning from another location.

Explaining NATO's view, Pentagon spokesman Kenneth H. Bacon told reporters at a briefing Friday that Serbian television "is as much a part of Milosevic's murder machine as his army. It has stirred up nationalistic passions in the country."

Bacon said the operation had "misreported what's going on in such a way that has made it . . . impossible for the Serb people to grasp the full magnitude of the problem in Kosovo."

U.S. lawmakers and commentators have been arguing for days that NATO should have moved more swiftly to take out Serbian television. On Thursday, a senior administration official acknowledged that he believed the alliance should not have waited four weeks to silence Milosevic's chief propaganda organ.

Times staff writers David Holley in Podgorica, Montenegro; and John J. Goldman at the United Nations contributed to this report.

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