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Yugoslavia: Last Danube Bridge Destroyed; NATO Approves Oil Embargo

Belgrade/Washington, 26 April 1999 (RFE/RL) - NATO warplanes have again struck the northern Yugoslav city of Novi Sad, in the 33rd day of air strikes on Yugoslavia. The Belgrade-based Beta news agency reports the last of three bridges crossing the Danube river was destroyed in the attacks early this morning. U.S. Undersecretary of State Strobe Talbott is expected in Moscow today for talks with Russia's special envoy to Yugoslavia, Viktor Chernomyrdin. Talbott is expected to try to convince Russian leaders to persuade Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic to accept NATO demands for ending the crisis in Kosovo, including positioning a NATO-led peacekeeping force in the province. Strains between the alliance and Russia deepened this weekend as NATO leaders, meeting at a summit in Washington, approved a cutoff of oil shipments to Yugoslavia. Russia has said it will ignore any oil embargo.

The official Yugoslav news agency Tanjug confirmed this morning's attacks and said they were resisted by strong anti-aircraft fire. There were no immediate reports of casualties. Novi Sad, which straddles the Danube, has been a frequent target of air attacks.

Tanjug also said a fuel depot was targeted near the central town of Valjevo. Also hit with nine missiles was a military airport in Sombor, near the border with Hungary.

Serbian state television broadcast a warning at 0330 (local and Prague time) that it would go off the air until 0630. It stopped broadcasting at 0334 after playing the Yugoslav national anthem. State television has become a frequent target of the missile attacks.

NATO Supreme Commander in Europe General Wesley Clark said yesterday the bombing campaign against Serb forces is proceeding "on schedule" and will intensify. The strikes are aimed at convincing Milosevic to withdraw forces from Kosovo and to allow refugees to return to the province under the protection of a NATO-led peacekeeping force. A NATO spokesman said yesterday the alliance is targeting Serb infrastructure as well as field forces in Kosovo.

Meanwhile, European Union foreign ministers are meeting in Luxembourg today to discuss ways to put additional pressure on Yugoslavia. One of the measures to be discussed is a travel ban on Yugoslav officials and businessmen to EU countries.

While in Moscow, Talbott is expected to meet several Russian officials, possibly including Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov and Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov.

Russia strongly opposes NATO's air strikes against Yugoslavia. Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov says Russia would beef up its defenses and review relations with NATO if the alliance commits ground troops to Yugoslavia.

U.S. President Bill Clinton summarized the results of the summit yesterday in an hour-long telephone conversation with Russian president Boris Yeltsin. Clinton told Yeltsin that NATO is unanimous in believing Russia has an important role to play in ending the crisis.

During the close of the alliance's 50th anniversary summit yesterday, Clinton said NATO leaders ended their summit more united than ever in their determination to reverse Serbia's ethnic cleansing policies in Kosovo. He said that NATO must prevail in its air campaign with Yugoslavia, now into its second month, and that a "just end" to the Kosovo conflict is essential to putting the Balkan region on the path to stability.

During the three-day summit, NATO leaders agreed to provide economic aid and security guarantees to Yugoslavia's neighbors, the seven front-line states. They said the alliance will act should Serb forces attack any of these nations.

The alliance also approved a new "strategic concept," expanding the group's focus to problems beyond members' borders and allowing a greater role for the European Union in conflict resolution. The concept dealt with NATO expansion, although it didn't set any formal timetable for adding new members.

The summit was attended by leaders of the 19 member states as well as the heads of NATO's affiliated Partnership for Peace nations, excluding most notably Russia. U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said yesterday she regrets the Russians decided not to be represented.

Speaking to reporters yesterday at the conclusion of the NATO summit, Macedonian President Kiro Gligorov strongly criticized NATO for not inviting his country to become an alliance member. He said NATO has shown "no appreciation for the extensive efforts Macedonia has made to qualify for NATO membership."

He said Macedonia had been "circumvented" and "put in last place" among aspiring countries in spite of allowing thousands of NATO soldiers to be stationed on its soil. He also complained that outside aid for Kosovo refugees in Macedonia has fallen far short of needs.

Macedonia is one of 24 NATO partner countries that maintain links with NATO but lack full membership. The alliance maintains an official "open door" policy for new members, but it took no concrete steps toward enlargement at the summit.

Macedonia and Albania, however, were both singled out for praise yesterday by NATO leaders for their contributions in the Kosovo crisis. NATO secretary general Javier Solana said the country's efforts had been nothing short of heroic.