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NATO Attacks on Orthodox Easter

April 12, 1999 GMT

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (AP) _ Saying it showed restraint in deference to the Orthodox Easter holiday, NATO nonetheless hammered Serb targets in Kosovo on Sunday. Western officials, meanwhile, expressed growing alarm over reports of atrocities in the province and said a possible mass grave site had been spotted.

Shortly after nightfall, a missile struck a residential area of the northern city of Novi Sad, the official Tanjug news agency reported. The independent Beta news agency quoted Caslav Popovic, a city official, as saying a military barracks had been targeted. There were no causalities, he said.

Part of an oil refinery was hit near Pancevo, northeast of Belgrade, Beta quoted Mayor Srdjan Mikovic as saying. A car factory in the central Serbian town of Kragujevac that was seriously damaged last week was targeted again Monday, Tanjug reported. Nearby Batajnica, where a military airport is located, was also targeted, Tanjug and Beta reported.

British Harrier jets raided a fuel storage depot in Kosovo late Sunday, Group Cpt. Glenn Edge said.

Air-raid sirens also sounded in the capital Belgrade and the cities of Nis and Cacak.

In Belgium, NATO spokesman Jamie Shea showed aerial photographs of a site in Pusto Selo, southwest of the Kosovo capital, Pristina. He said from the air it appeared the ground had been freshly turned over, and that the site looked ``somewhat similar″ to aerial shots of mass graves seen during the war in Bosnia.

``I suspect ... that we are going to find more and more evidence of mass graves, mass executions, some pretty horrific stories,″ Defense Secretary William Cohen said on ABC’s ``This Week.″

About 400,000 people have fled their homes and are hiding in forests and mountains, terrified of Serb forces, British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said Sunday after talking to an ethnic Albanian political leader in Kosovo. Cook said NATO holds Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic responsible for these ``victims of his ethnic cleansing.″

British officials also said about 100,000 ethnic Albanian men are apparently missing. The estimate, based on fewer than expected men turning up among refugees crossing into Macedonia and Albania, revived speculation that the men had either been massacred by Serbs, joined the rebel Kosovo Liberation Army or were being held hostage.

Many of the refugees managing to get across intermittently open borders _ more than half a million, all told _ tell of their villages being burned and emptied.

In what was apparently a grim aftermath of a frenzy of violence, tape obtained but not filmed by Associated Press Television News showed a burned, deserted village just over the Macedonian border. Ethnic Albanians said it had been emptied in a recent assault.

What looked to be a bloodied T-shirt lay among clothing scattered on the ground and dangling off fences. Two sheep had been shot in the head and thrown in a stream, apparently to contaminate the water.

NATO says the bombing campaign that began March 24 will go on until Milosevic withdraws Yugoslav and Serb units sent to Kosovo as part of his crackdown on the separatist KLA.

Shea, the alliance spokesman, said it was ``a night of relative restraint″ on the airstrikes. ``We were mindful of the Orthodox Easter celebrations,″ he said.

In Belgrade, skies were gloomy and streets and squares nearly empty on Sunday. Most people stayed home for the traditional Easter meal of roast lamb and a salad of new onions and radishes.

Belgrade was unscathed in overnight air attacks, but 50 bombs hit in and around Pristina. The city’s Slatina airport was hit more than two dozen times, the Serb-run Media Center said.

Shea said targets that were hit by NATO bombs and missiles included a fuel depot in Pristina, ammunition depots, bridges, communications facilities and air defense installations.

Yugoslavia’s telecommunications system was beginning to collapse ``because of the extensive damage inflicted on it″ by the airstrikes, Tanjug quoted Dojcilo Radojevic, the telecommunications minister, as saying Sunday.

Yugoslavia reported six civilian deaths and 23 injuries in Sunday morning’s strikes. Tanjug said civilian areas were hit in northern Kosovo and in the Serbian town of Kursumlija, 125 miles south of Belgrade. It said the dead included a father and his 1-year-old daughter in the village of Mirovac, near the northern Kosovo town of Podujevo.

Later, Serbian TV said civilians were wounded in the central Serbian town of Krusevac, where a factory and a thermal heating plant were hit.

According to Yugoslav officials, 300 civilians have been killed and 3,000 injured during the bombing campaign. There was no way to independently verify the figures. Yugoslavia does not disclose military casualties.

Fighting between Yugoslav forces and Kosovo rebels spilled over into Albania on Sunday when about 10 mortar shells exploded near the border village of Kremica, according to Albania’s information minister, Musa Ulqini.

In the border town of Tropoja, heavy mortar fire struck an Albanian border police headquarters and a residential neighborhood, killing two people and wounding nine, said Andrea Angeli, spokesman for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which is monitoring the situation in Albania.

The Serbs also reported shells landed on their side of the border, Serbian TV reported, saying the attacks came from Albania.

More fighting at the Padesh border station, near Tropoja, wounded three KLA fighters and a foreign journalist, Angeli later reported. No further information was immediately available.

Albania is becoming a major staging ground for NATO action against Yugoslavia. It has handed over control of its airspace, ports and ``military infrastructure″ to the alliance and is ready to accept more NATO ground troops, Foreign Minister Paskal Milo said Sunday from Tirana.

Milo, speaking from Tirana in a video linkup with the daily briefing at the British Defense Ministry, called for Kosovo to be made into a protectorate under the ``the exclusive supervision″ of an international force.

Cook, the British foreign secretary, said NATO was clear ``that there has to be a period in which Kosovo is under the protection of an international military force.″

London’s Sunday Telegraph reported that 80 British commandos have infiltrated Kosovo to direct NATO bombers to Serb police and military units, and also identify massacre sites and ``death squad″ commanders.

The British unit, whose undercover operations included raids in Iraq during the Gulf War, went because Congress has not yet approved the commitment of American ground forces, the newspaper said.

NATO commanders have repeatedly said ground forces would not be sent to Kosovo unless an agreement is reached with Yugoslavia’s government.