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Yugoslavia: NATO Hits Barracks, Perhaps Town; Moscow Talks Continue

Brussels/Belgrade, 28 April 1999 (RFE/RL) - NATO today confirmed it had carried out a successful attack on an army barracks in Surdulica, in southern Serbia. Serbian media, reporting on the attack which took place yesterday, accused NATO of a "barbaric and destructive bombing" of the town of 15,000 people some 320 kilometers south of Belgrade. The media said scores of civilians' homes had been destroyed and at least 17 people killed. An AP reporter, allowed to visit the town by Serb police, said rescue teams today were still trying to retrieve bodies from the wreckage. A NATO press release in Brussels rejected as "totally false" Yugoslav claims that alliance warplanes target civilians. NATO said it takes every precaution to prevent harm to civilians, but reiterated that possibility cannot be completely excluded.

Meanwhile, more than 2,000 refugees from Kosovo entered Albania late last night, the largest influx there in more than a week. The newly arrived refugees spoke of bodies on their way to the border after Serb forces were seen rounding up young men but the reports could not be independently confirmed.

In Moscow today, German Defense Minister Rudolf Sharping began his visit, the first in a string of Western officials due in the Russian capital for talks on the Yugoslav conflict.

Sharping met briefly with his Russian counterpart, Igor Sergeyev, before going into talks with Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov. Later the German minister was due to meet Russian Balkans envoy Viktor Chernomyrdin.

Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreu also arrived in Moscow, to be followed later today by UN Secretary General Kori Annan. Before flying to Moscow, Annan was to be briefed in Berlin by US Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott on the outcome of Talbott's own talks yesterday in Moscow on the crisis.

No breakthrough was announced following Talbott's talks, although Washington and Moscow said they will work together to resolve the crisis. The West is trying to involve Russia, which resolutely opposes NATO military action, in joint diplomatic efforts rather than face confrontation. But several Russian diplomatic missions to Belgrade have failed to make any progress.

Meanwhile, President Boris Yeltsin said he would discuss the Kosovo crisis today with visiting Belarus President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, who has also resolutely opposed NATO bombing and favours bringing Yugoslavia into a loose union between Russia and Belarus.