Belgrade Mulls Cruise Missile Strikes
By Vesna Peric-Zimonjic Oct 1998
BELGRADE, Oct 7 (IPS) For your information: (by IPS, independent news agency)
- In Serbian eyes there is now a very real
prospect of U.S.-led NATO air strikes on their country -- a
prospect that engenders equally real fear and anger among the
These fears are focused on the words of U.S. envoy Richard
Holbrooke, in town this week to meet with Yugoslav President
Slobodan Milosevic for talks on the Kosovo crisis.
Holbrooke -- who brought a Pax Americana to Bosnia Hercegovina,
agreed in the U.S. city of Dayton, but facilitated by major NATO
air strikes on Bosnian Serb positions -- described his
unsuccessful Tuesday meeting with Milosevic as ''chillier (than
usual) but civil''.
But he told Belgrade journalists that the situation was ''the
most difficult and serious'' he had faced so far in the Balkans.
The seven-month crisis in the breakaway Serbian province of
Kosovo has been brought to a new head by widespread western media
reports of Serbian atrocities against the ethnic Albanian
communities that predominate in the province.
Once again punitive NATO air strikes are being openly
discussed, though U.N. hesitation and Russian opposition qualify
quick decision making. The latest U.N. Security Council resolution
on the Balkans urges Belgrade to withdraw its forces from Kosovo
and that negotiations with Kosovo Albanians
be started immediately.
Both houses of the federal Parliament of Yugoslavia met on
Monday, concluding that the country faces an ''imminent danger of
war,'' while the federation's Supreme Defence Council, headed by
Milosevic, warned the country to be ''ready to defend itself'' on
And while the state controlled media says that any NATO air
strikes would target military installations, the independent media
runs lists of likely targets across Serbia -- military
installations, Yugoslav Army air bases and anti-aircraft rocket
sites - near large civilian populations.
Publicly, the military dismiss fears of 'collateral damage' and
destruction caused by mis-aimed U.S. missiles or bad NATO
intelligence. They maintain that their air defence can handle the
Privately, most concede that the army's outdated equipment will
be no more use against NATO might in Serbia than it was in Bosnia-
Hercegovina and that the bombers will get through.
''There is no way they (NATO planes) could hit the military
without touching us,'' says Belgrade engineer Milan Simonovic.
''It's only the tell-tale when they (NATO) talk about 'surgical
strikes'. Such hits are only possible with computer games.''
''There is no place I can hide with my kids,'' says Marina
Ivkovic, an unemployed mother of two, walking her son and daughter
aged five and three in a Belgrade park.
''I live in an eight-storey apartment building. The cellar is a
possible hiding place. But how can I run with two of them to the
cellar quickly enough? They (the government) are not telling us
anything except that we have to defend ourselves, our country. How
and why?'' she adds.
The Cold War era bomb shelters that were built into suburban
apartment blocks -- though not into the older homes in the densely
populated city centres -- have long ago been turned over to other
uses. Today they are junk rooms, discos and gymnasiums. The state
has no new advice on what to do when the bombs fall.
The media advise their readers to box flashlights, transistor
radios, tinned food and bottled water, ready for a fast move into
the cellar, if the reader has one. They also advise them to bag up
their family documents and take them underground as well. Grimly,
at least two journalists who lost homes in Bosnia and Croatia,
advise their readers to collect old photos as well.
''You have to know who you are, that you are a person with the
past, that you once led a normal life,'' one wrote. ''That is why
photographs are necessary. Take the word of those who failed to do
that once before, as they have bitter experience.''
''Civilians should be psychologically prepared for possible air
strikes,'' adds Bora Kuzmanovic, professor of the Belgrade Faculty
''The increasing threats only stir up mixed feelings of revolt
and anger, growing patriotism and national unity. They make
ordinary people feel powerless and victimised, and bitter and
furious against the outside world,'' Kuzmanovic explains.
Konstantin Obradovic, an international law expert of the
Institute for International Politics and Economy, said the
government was doing nothing because ''at heart, they do not
believe NATO could resort to strikes''.
But retired artillery colonel Milorad Timotic of the non-
governmental Belgrade Centre for Civil and Military Relations said
the government had already raised army combat readiness and issued
instructions to local authorities. Both the military and the local
authorities refuse to comment.
''If anyone wants to punish Milosevic for Kosovo or whatever,
it still remains unclear what they would accomplish by bombing
targets all over Serbia,'' Zoran Milanovic, a Belgrade teacher
says. ''It will only help this regime rally people behind it.'' He
thought it would rally ethnic Albanian supporters of the Kosovo
Liberation Army (UCK) as well.
In Belgrade and elsewhere there is no mass rush to buy food
stockpiles; few people have the money to do so. ''Milosevic and
his family won't feel a thing. They'll be safe in their bunkers,''
Milanovic added. ''Look what (the 1992-95 U.N.) sanctions did to
him. People around him and his family became enormously rich,
while we have never been poorer.''
''Will bombs get the (Kosovo) refugees more aid, new houses?''
asks Milos Janjic, a Belgrade student. ''If air strikes could
happen without human casualties and if that could bring
Milosevic's rule to an end, I would not mind. Tell them to bomb
Milosevic's home in Dedinje (a Belgrade residential area)-- and
save us from further trouble.'' (END/IPS/VPZ/RJ/98)
Jan Van Criekinge
De Wereld Morgen / NCOS
tel: +32-2-539.26.20 fax: +32-2-539.13.43