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Yugoslavia: NATO Hits Socialist Headquarters; Talbott Meets Russian Envoy

Belgrade, 27 April 1999 (RFE/RL) - NATO jets early today struck a building in Belgrade housing the offices of the ruling Socialist party of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic as well as several television and radio stations. This was the second attack on the Socialist party headquarters in less than a week. In Moscow, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott met today with Russia's Balkans envoy, Viktor Chernomyrdin. Chernomyrdin was expected to brief Talbott on the outcome of his failed mediation mission to Belgrade last week. Chernomyrdin has said he has some fresh ideas on how to put an end to the war in Yugoslavia. Talbott earlier today met Russian Foreign minister Igor Ivanov and afterwards told reporters he had learned more about Russian perceptions of the situation and that he was convinced the U.S. and Russia could work together to solve the crisis.

The overnight attack on Belgrade destroyed a TV transmitter on top of the party headquarters building, according to Western reports. The transmitter had remained largely undamaged in the previous airstrike. The state Tanjug news agency said two missiles hit the building but no one was wounded.

Serbian media reported the northern city of Novi Sad was again targeted overnight and that the northwestern town of Sombor and Kraljevo in central Serbia were also attacked. Tanjug said the town of Uzice in western Serbia, as well as a bridge in northern Serbia were also targeted. There were no immediate reports of casualties.

In Washington, the Pentagon said a U.S. Army Apache helicopter crashed on a training mission at an airfield in Tirana, Albania late yesterday. The two crew members escaped the crash and were said to be in good condition. Earlier, the Pentagon said the U.S. was sending 30 additional refuelling aircraft to the Balkans to intensify NATO attacks.

In Moscow, Chernomyrdin met earlier today with President Boris Yeltsin before meeting Talbott. He said Yeltsin planned to call German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder to discuss the two nations' positions on Kosovo.

Chernomyrdin, a former Russian prime minister, said Russia did not consider itself part of NATO's plans for a sea blockade to prevent oil supplies to Yugoslavia. He was quoted as saying the NATO decision applied only to members of the alliance and "had nothing to do" with Russia.

Chernomyrdin, who spoke with U.S. Vice President Al Gore by telephone Monday, will visit Strasbourg on Wednesday to brief the Council of Europe's parliamentary assembly on his talks last week in Belgrade.

In Washington, White House press secretary Joe Lockhart told journalists that President Bill Clinton had sent Talbott to Moscow because he thought it necessary to maintain dialogue with Moscow on Kosovo "at the highest level."

In Luxembourg today, European Union (EU) foreign ministers are scheduled to meet their Albanian and Macedonian counterparts in a bid to strengthen ties with the two countries bearing the brunt of the Kosovo refugee crisis. EU officials said earlier that today's meeting would take place on the sidelines of a regularly scheduled meeting of EU ministers.

The EU's Acting Economic Affairs Commissioner, Yves Thibault de Silguy, has said the focus will be on refugees and ways in which to deal with reconstructing the region after the war.

According to preliminary European estimates reviewed yesterday by ministers of the Group of Seven industrial nations, the cost of economic reconstruction in the Balkans after the Kosovo war could reach $30 billion.

Meanwhile, Thousands more refugees fled Kosovo yesterday.

Paula Ghedini, spokeswoman for the U.N. refugee agency, said some 3,000 refugees arrived on a train and in buses at the main Macedonian border crossing of Blace. Macedonian state radio said tens of thousands more people were still en route to the border.

Macedonian President Kiro Gligorov has accused European nations of breaking promises to take in refugees. Gligorov's Economy Minister -- Zanko Cado -- resigned yesterday, partly because of the crisis, according to the Macedonian news agency (MIA).

In neighboring Albania, aid officials said at least 350 Kosovar Albanians crossed the border on foot. Albania's foreign minister Paskal Milo yesterday urged NATO to send ground troops to Yugoslavia as soon as possible.

U.N. relief agencies estimate about 600,000 ethnic Albanians have fled or been expelled from Kosovo since NATO launched its air campaign on March 24 to drive Yugoslav forces from the southern Serbian province.