Belgrade, 3 May 1999 (RFE/RL) - Power is being restored gradually to Serbia today after NATO bombing of power plants last night plunged up to 70 percent of the Republic into darkness. Viktor Chernomyrdin, Russia's envoy to the Balkans, was scheduled to leave Moscow early today for a meeting on Kosovo with U.S. President Bill Clinton in Washington. Relatives of the three U.S. soldiers released from Serb captivity yesterday to U.S. civil rights leader Jesse Jackson are headed to Germany. A spokeswoman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees says epidemics of disease threaten the overcrowded refugee camps in Macedonia when the weather turns warmer, as thousands of ethnic Albanians from Kosovo continue to arrive daily.
The Serbian power company (EPS) told the Yugoslav state news agency Tanjug that the greater part of Serbia now had electricity, but that a full and stable supply would take time. With that in mind, officials have appealed to people to use as little electricity as possible in order not to overload the power grid. The officials say priority of service will be given to hospitals, water supply services and bakeries.
The blackout is being described as by far the biggest in 40 nights of NATO bombing.
Power plant engineers said the weapons exploded above their targets spraying graphite, which conducts electricity, on key switching equipment, short-circuiting the systems. But little material damage was reported.
Tanjug today also reported NATO attacks on Kraljevo, in central Serbia, and Prijepolje, 10 km from the border with Montenegro -- among others. There were no reported casualties.
Concerning Chernomyrdin's visit, White House officials tell RFE/RL the visit will allow Chernomyrdin to discuss the status of his recent talks in Belgrade with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. Chernomyrdin said before his depature he might return to Belgrade for further talks with Milosevic after meeting Clinton.
Meanwhile, relatives of the three U.S. soldiers released from Serb captivity yesterday to U.S. civil rights leader Jesse Jackson, are headed to Germany to reunite with their loved ones. The three soldiers, who spent more than a month in captivity in Yugoslavia, are to be debriefed over the next few days about their time as prisoners of war in Belgrade.
Concerning Kosovo refugees, Paula Ghedini said yesterday that if refugees continue to arrive "in these numbers" the UNHCR says there will be serious health hazards when the weather gets warmer.
Yesterday, some 6,000 Kosovo Albanians crossed into Macedonia at the border posts of Blace and Jazince. Ghedini said all seven refugee camps were now over capacity. She said the UNHCR is worried diseases such as dysentery, cholera and hepatitis may come with warmer weather. She said no cases of these diseases had yet been registered.
The UNHCR says there are now about 185,000 refugees in Macedonia, with 80,000 of them in refugee camps. Yesterday, Macedonian Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski again appealed for international financial aid to handle the refugee influx, which Macedonia fears could place intolerable strains on its own ethnic mix. British Prime Minister Tony Blair is due to travel to Macedonia today to meet with refugees in the camps, and to hold talks with Macedonian officials.