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CRISIS IN YUGOSLAVIA

NATO Planes Hit Chinese Embassy in Belgrade; 2 Die

Balkans: China condemns attack and demands meeting of Security Council, which convenes in emergency session. In Nis, 15 die as cluster bombs strike near market, hospital.

May 08, 1999|RICHARD BOUDREAUX and JOHN-THOR DAHLBURG | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia — NATO warplanes pounded Belgrade early today, hitting the Chinese Embassy, setting it ablaze and killing two. The attack, hours after allied cluster bombs killed 15 civilians in the city of Nis, angered Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's government as it was signaling a willingness to discuss a peace plan for Kosovo province.

A report from a Chinese correspondent on the scene said the multistory embassy had been hit with three missiles from different angles, one that plunged down from the fifth floor of the embassy to the first floor. Another missile hit the side of the building on the fourth floor.

The New China News Agency said two people were killed, including one of the news service's correspondents, and said more than 20 people were injured. Two people were missing.

As firetrucks converged on the smoking building, witnesses saw dazed employees running into the street and an unconscious person being removed on a stretcher. Two gaping holes were visible in the embassy building, and a 6-foot-deep crater was blown out at one corner.

The bombing was part of the heaviest NATO assault on the Yugoslav capital in four nights. Lights went out across the city of 2 million people shortly after 9 p.m. Friday, apparently after NATO sabotaged a power station for the second time this week.

After news of the bombing hit, the U.S., British, French and Russian ambassadors scurried to answer China's angry call for an emergency session of the Security Council, which met into the early hours of today.

The attack could jeopardize the search for peace in Yugoslavia. China, a vocal opponent of the NATO bombing campaign since it began March 24, is a permanent member of the Security Council. Its support is necessary if the United States, Russia and other members of the Group of 8 industrialized nations are to gain U.N. approval for a plan they drafted Thursday to end the conflict in Yugoslavia.

In Beijing, the bombing topped the national noon newscast, with a statement read out expressing the Chinese government's "utmost indignation" of "the barbarian act." Beijing called it "a brutal violation of China's sovereignty" that contravened international convention and law. The statement strongly condemned NATO's action and said Beijing "reserved the right to take further action."

China's embassy is in New Belgrade near studios of the pro-government BK Television, a more obvious NATO target, which was also damaged in the attack and knocked off the air.

NATO officials said today that their warplanes did not target the Chinese Embassy. But they did acknowledge a daylight cluster bomb attack on Nis, where explosions ripped through a crowded outdoor market and a hospital complex.

Residents in Nis said bombs burst overhead and scattered scores of beer-can-size "bomblets" that floated to Earth on tiny white parachutes and exploded on impact, spraying fire and deadly metal fragments into homes, outdoor market stalls, cafes, cars and two hospital buildings. More than 30 people were seriously wounded, doctors said.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan was "shocked and distressed" by the bombings in Belgrade and Nis, a spokesman said, and called for "an urgent political solution" in Kosovo.

NATO is demanding political autonomy and security for the ethnic Albanian majority in Kosovo, a province of Yugoslavia's dominant republic, Serbia. Yugoslav forces have driven hundreds of thousands of Albanians from their homes before and since the bombing started.

On Friday, Yugoslavia's state-run Tanjug news agency said Milosevic would consider--and might eventually accept--the plan outlined in principle by Russia and Western powers. The plan calls for an international peacekeeping force in Kosovo and a withdrawal of at least some Yugoslav troops.

But Tanjug repeated the government's insistence that NATO first stop the bombing, and the government's rhetoric turned angry after the bombings in Belgrade and Nis.

"Is it possible that something like this was done only a day after we came closer to a peace agreement?" asked Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Milovan Bojic, standing in front of the damaged hospital in Nis.

Yugoslav Foreign Minister Zivadin Jovanovic called the embassy bombing "unbelievable."

"Now I would like to see how NATO will justify this," said Goran Matic, a government minister without portfolio. "It's time to end this madness. Everybody has to sit and talk."

In other developments Friday:

* The Clinton administration said its chief Russia strategist, Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, would visit Moscow next week to attempt to hammer out the details of Thursday's initiative. Officials said Russia and the West are still far apart, despite dramatic progress made during the talks in Bonn.

* The U.N.'s Annan named Sweden's former prime minister, Carl Bildt, as one of two special envoys to help him search for a political solution to the crisis, diplomats said. The other envoy is Eduard Kukan, Slovakia's foreign minister.

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