21 May 1999

NATO strikes hospital as peace efforts continue

21 May 1999
The Times of India

NATO strikes hospital as peace efforts continue

By Siddharth Varadarajan

BELGRADE: Barely hours after Russian special envoy Viktor Chernomyrdin
left Belgrade at the conclusion of his latest peace mission to
Yugoslavia, NATO bombs slammed into a hospital near the city centre,
killing at least three patients and wounding dozens of others.

The Dragisa Misovic hospital is in the Dedinje residential district of
the capital, not far from the bombed residence of Yugoslav president
Slobodan Milosevic. According to the authorities, the nearest military
installation is more than a kilometer away. The attack took place in
the early hours of Thursday morning. The city centre was convulsed by
loud thuds in the distance and hideous flashes of orange lit up the
sky. This was the heaviest night of bombing the Yugoslav capital had
experienced in days.

When I visited the bombed-out hospital several hours later, the scene
was one of utter devastation. Groups of workers stood around looking
shell-shocked. Spread out over a leafy campus, the hospital consists
of several two-storey buildings with slanted red roofs. The main
building, which housed the intensive care section, took a direct hit.
The wall on one side was knocked down completely and sections of the
roof had fallen through. Amidst the rubble: the tangled remnants of
beds, syringes and ampoules, plaster, medical records. There were even
diapers peeping out from under a pile of bricks and glass shards. The
dead patients were being treated in the neurological department, said
nurses at the hospital.

The children's ward and gynaecological clinic also suffered extensive
damage. According to Dr Miodrag Lazic, deputy director of the
hospital, dozens of patients were inside, including new-born babies
and their mothers. The last Caesarean delivery had finished 10 minutes
before the bombs struck. The baby survived but had to be rushed out,
all of 11-minutes-old, to another hospital for intensive care. "What
kind of people would do such a thing?," asked Dr Lazic angrily.
"Nobody, no principle, nothing can justify the bombing of a hospital."

What has stunned people in Belgrade is the fact that the attack on the
hospital came so soon after Mr Chernomyrdin's successful talks with Mr
Milosevic. Before he flew out Wednesday night, the Russian envoy said
that he had reached a broad understanding with the Yugoslav leader.

On its part, Mr Milosevic's office released a terse statement saying:
"The solution could be found only politically and within the UN, and
with the active and direct participation of Yugoslavia, starting from
the principles of G-8." The G-8 principles, though framed jointly by
key NATO countries and Russia, differ from NATO's original war aims in
one crucial respect. They call for UN-sponsored "international civil
and military presences" and not for an "international force with NATO
at the core." If the US stops insisting on NATO running a prospective
UN peacekeeping force, a solution to the crisis would be at hand
within hours.

Since traditionally, UN peacekeepers are drawn from neutral countries,
this convention should logically rule out the participation of troops
from any of the 10 NATO belligerents. However, it does seem as if the
US wants to have control over the UN force, if and when it is
deployed, and is prepared to step up the bombing in order to force
Belgrade to agree. Rather than spending time closeted with Mr
Milosevic, therefore, many ordinary Yugoslavs feel the Russian envoy
needs to do some serious talking in Washington.

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