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Yugoslavia: Russian Envoy Visits China Today; Beijing Protests Continue

Moscow, Beijing; 10 May 1999 (RFE/RL) - Russia is sending its special envoy for Kosovo, Viktor Chernomyrdin, to Beijing today to discuss recent developments in the Yugoslav crisis, including NATO's mistaken bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade. Earlier today, China suspended diplomatic contacts with Washington on human rights and arms control issues to protest the NATO attack. In China, angry protests against the U.S. and NATO are continuing for a third day. U.S. ambassador James Sasser and key staff are stuck inside the U.S. embassy compound in Beijing, unable to leave. Most of the embassy's windows are shattered. The protests are the biggest in Beijing since the pro-democracy demonstrations in Tiananmen Square 10 years ago.

Russian President Boris Yeltsin's foreign policy spokesman Sergei Prikhodko says the Chernomyrdin visit was agreed today when Yeltsin spoke by telephone with Chinese President Jiang Zemin. Chernomyrdin left for Beijing this morning.

The official Chinese news agency Xinhua says that in Yeltsin's phone talk with Jiang, the Chinese president condemned what he termed NATO's "gunboat policy." Jiang also said that continued NATO bombing will make it "impossible" for the UN Security Council to discuss any plan to solve the Kosovo crisis.

A Foreign Ministry spokesman said China also decided to "postpone" its consultations with the United States on the issues of weapons proliferation and international security.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's visit to China this week was also downgraded to a working visit and his itinerary curtailed. The move, by the Chinese government, was in protest of the NATO bombing.

In China, angry protests against the U.S. and NATO are continuing for a third day. U.S. ambassador James Sasser and key staff are stuck inside the U.S. embassy compound in Beijing, unable to leave. Most of the embassy's windows are shattered.

Sasser told Reuters today the embassy is taking all necessary precautions to protect sensitive equipment and documents. He said there are fears the Chinese police might not be able to guarantee the staff's security and hold back the protesters, some of whom have already managed to breach the embassy's iron perimeter fence.

Sasser said the Chinese government appears to have condoned and even supported the demonstrations, noting that none of the U.S. expressions of regret about the NATO bombing have yet appeared in China's state-controlled media.

In Washington, U.S. and NATO officials say last Friday's bombing of the Chinese Embassy in which three people died was caused by a massive intelligence failure.

U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen and the director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) George Tenet said over the weekend that the mistaken attack was prompted by "faulty information' used in the initial targeting of the building. A joint statement also said "the extensive process" of selecting and validating targets failed to correct the original error.

NATO's supreme military commander General Wesley Clark acknowledged the error yesterday in a television interview but said the alliance will continue to rely on the process and use it in targeting.

The targets are picked up by intelligence analysts using information from a variety of sources, including those on the ground as well as available maps and military databases. Once the target is identified for its military value, it is checked and cross-checked for possible risks for civilians. The most sensitive targets require the highest political review and approval

Last Friday's intended target, the Yugoslav directorate of weapons supply and procurement, has long been suspected by U.S. intelligence agencies of helping to develop advanced weapons and selling them to other countries.

Meanwhile, NATO says poor weather hampered its overnight air strikes against Yugoslavia. Only 317 sorties were flown over the region, compared with more than 500 the night before. No attacks were made on Belgrade.

At The Hague, Yugoslavia has begun a legal challenge to the NATO military campaign, demanding today that the United Nations' highest court order an immediate end to the alliance's air strikes against its territory.

Yugoslav legal representative Rodoljub Etinski told the World Court in the The Hague that the NATO bombings of Yugoslavia are not just illegal but also "a crime of genocide." In his opening address, he said Yugoslavia's crackdown in Kosovo was an operation aimed at suppressing terrorism and NATO had no right to intervene in an internal conflict.

Yugoslavia is accusing 10 NATO countries -- Britain, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, and the U.S. -- of breaching international obligations to avoid use of force against other states. Yugoslavia is basing its case on a string of international treaties including the 1949 Geneva Convention.

The ten nations will have an opportunity in court to counter the Yugoslav charges. NATO spokesman Jamie Shea has condemned the case as a "frivolous and cynical" attempt by Belgrade to deflect responsibility for the forced removal of ethnic Albanians from Kosovo. The court is expected to deliver an interim ruling two to three weeks after this week's hearings.