- It was, for a tragically short time,
the best night of Nato's war. Belgrade was plunged into darkness when the
lights failed soon after 9pm on Friday as huge flashes lit up the sky.
In rapid succession, explosions tore into the defence ministry, the army
general staff headquarters, the interior ministry police headquarters,
three electricity transformer yards, a presidential bunker and even the
notorious Hotel Jugoslavia where the Serbian war criminal known as Arkan
owns a share in the casino.
- Then, 500 yards down the street from
the hotel, three explosions ripped apart a pink, five-storey building just
after midnight - and within minutes Nato found it had committed the worst
blunder of this military campaign. It had bombed the Chinese embassy.
- As China's fury erupted yesterday, last
week's gradually rising hopes of a peace settlement for Kosovo were collapsing
- The Chinese embassy stands alone in its
own grounds surrounded by grassy open space in a tree-lined avenue in New
Belgrade, on the south bank of the Danube, a leafy district of apartment
blocks developed in the 1960s. There were 26 people in the concrete building
in Ulica Tresnjinog Cveta (Cherry Tree Street) as the Nato bombers flew
high overhead. Among them was Shao Yunhuan, a 48-year-old correspondent
for the state news agency who had reported the Bosnian war and had returned
from Beijing for the Kosovo emergency.
- Within seconds, explosions gutted a large
section of the ground floor at the front and back of the building. A smaller
annexe at the back, which appeared to be residences, was also severely
damaged. The only parts of the building to escape unscathed were two ornamental
Chinese-style roof sections in green ceramic tiles topped with dragons'
- As screams erupted from the wreckage,
residents ran from nearby apartment blocks to help. Some of the survivors
escaped down a rope of four knotted sheets from a second-floor window.
Shao lay dead. Her husband, also a journalist, was among the 20 injured.
At least two other people were killed.
- Bozana Zumbor, who has an apartment across
the street from the embassy, said the force of the explosions lifted her
off the bed. She rushed outside and was among the first to reach the embassy
just as people were starting to come out. "They were screaming and
crying and there was blood, it was terrible," she said.
- "It was a shock to me because of
the good news we had been having from Bonn" - where the G8 countries
and Russia last week reached the basis for a peace agreement.
- A rescue worker said: "I can understand
one missile gone astray, but not three. They intended to hit this embassy
- I don't know why."
- Jovica Misic, 52, a bus driver, stood
in front of the gutted building. "This is terrible, this is the beginning
of the third world war because China supports us and now they hit their
embassy," he said.
- Admitting its "terrible" mistake
yesterday, Nato said the wrong building had been attacked. It thought it
was hitting a government procurement centre. "The planned target was
the Federal Directorate for the Supply and Procurement in Belgrade,"
said Jamie Shea, the Nato spokesman. "I understand that the two buildings
are close together."
- He added, under pressure from journalists:
"I've said that we struck the wrong building and I don't know exactly
why that happened. That is a subject which is still being investigated."
- Shea said there would be no halt to the
Nato bombing. "I want to emphasise that Operation Allied Force will
continue and we will continue with the same concern to minimise harm to
- The most likely planes used in the attack
on the embassy were B2 bombers flying from Whiteman Air Force base in Missouri
in the southern United States. They would have delivered their 1,000lb
precision-guided bombs from more than 15,000 feet.
- One Nato military source said: "These
were perfect conditions for a precision bombing run. Pilots can accurately
see the ground using infrared vision. This would have been enhanced by
the power-outtage which would have reduced confusing hot-spots.
- "However, dropping bombs into an
urban area is bound to give rise to more possibilities of error. A concentrated,
dense and confusing collection of buildings and roads could mean that the
pilot just picks up and targets the wrong one."
- When news of the embassy bombing broke,
China summoned the United Nations security council into an emergency session
early yesterday and Peter Burleigh, the deputy American ambassador to the
UN, said if Nato was responsible "we are deeply sorry. Nato would
never target civilians and never target an embassy". Jeremy Greenstock,
the British ambassador, said suggestions that Nato had bombed the Chinese
embassy on purpose were a "gross distortion".
- The Chinese government denounced the
bombing as a "barbarian act". The official media in Beijing,
after initial hesitation, gave dramatic coverage to the scenes of chaos
and loss of life in Belgrade. People out for a stroll in the Chinese capital
yesterday rushed to buy copies of the Beijing Evening News, which printed
a graphic report on its front page.
- The Chinese leadership - which is fearful
of any loss of prestige or any sign of weakness on its part in standing
up for Chinese interests on the world stage, but is also aware of the dangers
of letting domestic emotions get out of hand - appeared to sanction an
outpouring of fury on the streets.
- Thousands of angry Chinese demonstrators
hurled rocks and bottles at the American embassy in Beijing last night.
The protests started among apparently spontaneous groups of passers-by
who shouted abuse outside the embassy.
- However, they grew in numbers with the
arrival of organised busloads of patriotically inspired students carrying
banners and placards denouncing the United States. Many wore target symbols
like those adopted in Belgrade, with slogans in English, including "F***
- It was the first large student demonstration
in China since the democracy protests at Tiananmen Square that were crushed
by the military on June 4, 1989. A cheer of "Hao", meaning "Bravo",
went up whenever a plastic water bottle or piece of pavement landed on
- The apparently well organised demonstration
caused only minor damage - leaving some windows and an external light broken
- and the protestors left the area in buses at dusk. But a few hours later
about 1,000 protesters regrouped in front of the American embassy and again
stoned the compound. The protesters ignored police requests to leave the
area and some were seen digging up the road and throwing pieces of it at
- Attacks on foreigners were also reported
and an attempt to burn and overturn an American embassy car, as police
numbers at the scene reached 1,000. Several hundred student protesters
also gathered outside the nearby British embassy.
- The protests spread elsewhere in China,
with thousands of demonstrators marching through rainswept streets to the
British, American and French consulates in the southern city of Guangzhou.
State-controlled local television stations, which normally ban coverage
of any unrest, broadcast footage of the march. The American consulate in
the southwestern city of Chengdu was set on fire by an angry mob who stormed
the building early today. In Shanghai, hundreds marched in the heart of
the city's shopping district after holding an afternoon demonstration outside
the American consulate.
- In Hong Kong, smaller groups of local
politicians and trade unionists handed in letters of protest at the British
and American consulates. In Washington, the State Department last night
advised all American citizens in China to take increased security precautions
because of heightened tension over the Kosovo crisis.
- China has stridently criticised the Nato
airstrikes on Yugoslavia from the outset of the bombing campaign. Last
week Qin Huasun, its UN ambassador, said Beijing "firmly opposed any
attempt to impose a solution on the federal republic of Yugoslavia".
- The Chinese media have not reported the
scale or horror of Serbian actions in Kosovo and China remained an important
supplier of oil to Yugoslavia until a few days ago, when it cut off deliveries
because Belgrade had not paid its bills.
- The bombing of the Chinese embassy virtually
blotted out Nato's admission that, only a few hours earlier on Friday,
a cluster bomb had probably gone astray during an attack on an airfield
in the southeastern industrial city of Nis, killing and wounding civilians
in a city market, a hospital and nearby houses.
- Air raids early on Friday targeted Nis
airport. But just before midday, local doctors and municipal officials
said the city's main hospital complex and outdoor market came under bombardment.
- Reports spoke of three corpses in a street
covered with debris. One was of an old woman killed by shrapnel as she
carried home carrots from the market. Local police said about 20 unexploded
cluster bombs were in the area.
- A doctor at the city's main hospital
said 15 people had died in the strike. Nine of them died in and around
the marketplace, three outside the hospital and three on the operating
table, he said.
- Nato said a cluster bomb appeared to
have missed its target. "Nato aircraft carried out an attack against
Nis airfield using combined effects munitions [cluster bombs]," said
- "Unfortunately it is highly probable
that a weapon went astray and hit civilian buildings. There was no attempt
to harm civilians during this strike."
- Milovan Bojic, the Serbian deputy prime
minister, commented after visiting Nis: "Is it possible that something
like this was done only a day after we came closer to a peace agreement?"
- THE bombing of the Chinese embassy put
Nato on the defensive just as hopes were growing that an end to the conflict
might be in sight.
- Before it occurred, Milosevic had seemed
finally to be looking for a way out of his confrontation. President Bill
Clinton had responded with peace moves of his own and Russia had enhanced
the odds by endorsing a UN security force for Kosovo.
- However, as a permanent member of the
security council, China has the power to veto this move.
- The hopes for peace were triggered last
Sunday when Milosevic released the three American servicemen who had been
held captive in Belgrade since the start of the conflict.
- He also sent a letter to Clinton, the
secret contents of which were paraphrased by a senior administration official
as "we want peace". On Monday the Yugoslav leader made another
conciliatory gesture, releasing Ibrahim Rugova, the ethnic Albanian leader,
who had reportedly been held under house arrest in Belgrade.
- Clinton, having spurned Tony Blair's
"holy war" scenario, was putting more energy into the diplomatic
track by wooing Russia.
- The Russians, who had understood from
the start that Washington's diplomatic game plan was to win them over in
order to heighten Milosevic's isolation, had every reason for relishing
- They had been furious when Nato - fresh
from expanding its membership into eastern Europe - began bombing the Yugoslavs.
But the alliance's discomfort as its first military operation drags on
towards humiliation left a beam on the face of the balding Russian whose
limousine swept into the drive of the White House on Monday.
- The bushy eyebrows and striped tie of
Viktor Chernomyrdin, the former Russian prime minister, are a familiar
sight in the power centre of this administration. For years he had been
dropping in to see Al Gore, the vice-president, to discuss technical and
scientific co-operation. The two men were said to have become friends.
"I'm not here to be Milosevic's advocate," he told Clinton and
his advisers when they met in the White House.
- Indeed, he brought an unacceptable overture
from Belgrade - Milosevic was offering to withdraw only half of his forces
from Kosovo in exchange for a halt in the bombing - yet the Americans purred
approvingly at the friendliness of the messenger.
- "He's a no-nonsense kind of guy,"
said a senior administration official. "The Russians are motivated.
They want a solution."
- Chernomyrdin's meeting with Clinton was
followed by extensive talks with Gore in the vice-president's cramped office
in the west wing of the White House and the exercise room at his mansion
on Massachusetts Avenue.
- The next day, White House aides were
talking about a "turning point" in the conflict. Perhaps more
than any other Nato leader, Clinton was concerned about the increasing
political costs of the war. His popularity in opinion polls was dipping,
as was support for the air campaign.
- It was a point reinforced when General
Klaus Naumann, the retiring German head of Nato's military arm, confessed
to a press conference in Brussels: "Quite frankly and honestly, we
did not succeed in our initial attempts to coerce Milosevic through airstrikes
to accept our demands.
- "Nor did we succeed in preventing
Yugoslavia pursuing a campaign of ethnic separation and expulsion."
- Clinton reviewed this strategy as he
prepared to fly the Atlantic to visit Nato headquarters in Brussels on
- At their Washington summit last month
the allies had agreed to intensify the bombing in an attempt to bring Milosevic
to his knees.
- Nato was still relentlessly pounding
oil storage depots and managing to knock out the electricity temporarily
in Belgrade. Pentagon officials were confidently predicting that Milosevic's
forces in Kosovo would run out of fuel within six weeks.
- In Brussels, Clinton was given another
upbeat assessment by General Wesley Clark, the supreme allied commander
in Europe, on the damage being done by Nato to Milosevic's forces.
- However, America was suffering its own
damage. A second Apache helicopter had crashed on training missions even
before being deployed against the enemy; and the delay in putting these
craft into battle was interpreted by some as evidence of the little headway
Nato had made in destroying Serbian air defences, to which the high-tech,
low-flying Apaches would be particularly vulnerable.
- Clark briefed Clinton on plans to use
a ground force to take Kosovo if Milosevic did not back down. But the American
leader appeared to be banking on another outcome.
- On the surface he played the role of
the commander-in-chief, donning a bomber jacket to visit American military
bases in Germany, calling Milosevic an evil despot and promising refugees
from Kosovo that "you will go home again".
- Yet he was buoyed not by the military
prospects but by a growing conviction that a negotiated solution was in
- Russia was about to sign a declaration
reached by America, Britain and the other G8 countries meeting in Bonn
which proposed the deployment of an international security force in Kosovo
"with Nato at its core".
- This was a reversal not just in Russian
policy but in perceived western war aims. Milosevic, reviled in Washington
as a bloodsucking monster who should be overthrown, would continue in power
and would not even have to withdraw all his forces from Kosovo.
- Whereas previous declarations by the
allies had insisted that Milosevic should withdraw all his forces as a
condition for a halt to the bombing campaign, the G8 statement omitted
any use of the word "all".
- There was a hiccup to this unfolding
scenario when word reached Washington of a bizarre incident in Moscow on
- President Boris Yeltsin was handing out
awards in the Kremlin when he began ranting incoherently.
- "Nobody - just let Clinton, a little
bit, accidentally, send a missile," he mumbled. "We'll answer
immediately." He went on: "We don't want . . . such impudence.
- "To unleash a war on a sovereign
state. Without Security Council. Without United Nations. It could only
be possible in a time of barbarism."
- Washington was thrown into turmoil. Clinton
and Yeltsin had spoken three times in the past three weeks in a mood of
- The White House chose to play down the
outburst. "Yeltsin has said odd things before," said a presidential
adviser, referring to the leader's reputation for erratic behaviour that
some have linked to illness or alcohol. Yeltsin has, however, deployed
his "eccentricity" previously to hammer home the Russian point
- Clinton continued to talk up the developing
peace proposal on Friday, comparing it to the Bosnia peacekeeping model.
"What we did in Bosnia was functional," he told journalists on
the south lawn of the White House. The same day, the Kosovo Liberation
Army rejected the proposed settlement as unacceptable because it did not
include Kosovo's independence - an indication of just how dangerous a job
the peacekeeping force would have.
- The exact composition of the force will
be discussed over the next few days. Chernomyrdin is touring European capitals
and American diplomats will hold talks in Moscow before he returns to Belgrade
with a peace proposal which he believes he can sell to Milosevic.
- Various options are being debated. One,
according to administration officials, would be to create two separate
command structures. Nato would be deployed in most of the country, supervising
the return of refugees, while a non-Nato contingent from Russia, Belarus
and Ukraine under a "Slavic" command would be placed in northern
Kosovo, home to most of the province's Serbs and their religious monuments.
This arrangement would constitute partition and enable Milosevic to claim
victory for having saved a piece of Kosovo from Nato occupation.
- The preferred option, some Nato diplomats
say, would be an internationally guaranteed protectorate similar to that
existing in Bosnia, where 30,000 peacekeeping troops have been deployed.
Kosovo would get a "glorified Unprofor", similar to the UN force
in Bosnia but with much stronger rules of engagement. It would include
American and other Nato forces.
- After the rising hopes of the previous
few days, Washington was again being cautious yesterday - not just because
of the Chinese embassy debacle but because the success of any peace plan
still depends more on Milosevic than on Russia or Nato.
- "The problem is Milosevic,"
said an administration official. "The Russians want an end to this
war. But they don't necessarily have any decisive influence over Belgrade."
- Another said: "Don't hold your breath.
This could go on for weeks."
- DOWN the street from the stricken embassy
in Belgrade yesterday, Arkan - whose real name is Zeljko Raznjatovic -
watched as people shovelled glass and debris from the entrance of Hotel
Jugoslavija. He said an elderly porter, a refugee from Krajina, had been
killed and several more employees had been injured by the bomb that hit
the building. The casino, of which he owns 35% in partnership with an Italian
businessman and lawyer, suffered a broken window but was otherwise intact.
- "Is it possible that they hit the
hotel just because of me? Am I that important?" Arkan asked. "They
are really mad dogs. They are after me because they want to kill me, and
they are after Milosevic because they want to kill him, too."
- The paramilitary leader, who has been
accused of war crimes in Bosnia and Kosovo, insisted that none of his soldiers,
the "Tigers", had ever stayed at the Jugoslavia. He said only
players from his football team had stayed there in the past. "If they
were thinking that this was the Tigers' headquarters, then the CIA is not
doing its job properly," he said.
- Rousing himself into a fury, he issued
a personal challenge to Nato: "If you are as powerful as you think
you are, come on the ground, show us your face. I will fight you."
- Additional reporting: Lara Santoro, Belgrade