9. Strikes to Deliberately Create Hardship and Unemployment.
IT GOES WITHOUT saying that if the international reporting on the Kosovo conflict was correct then certain "facts on the ground" would be very different from what they have really proven to be. It had been stated that NATO forces had, by mid-April 1999, destroyed the Yugoslav Armed Forces capability to wage war.
The problem began with the original premise of the US Clinton Administration that the Yugoslav Government of Slobodan Miloevic would fall into disarray and compliance once the White House committed US and NATO military forces into combat against Yugoslavia.
US analysts are known to have told the White House that once air strikes began against Yugoslavia, as they did on March 24, 1999, then refugees in massive numbers would begin to flee from Kosovo into neighboring countries. There were, before the air strikes began, no refugees in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and only a few (those connected with the UCK) in the anarchic northern areas of Albania. There is no question but that the White House had been told unequivocally by its own intelligence services that a massive refugee flight from Kosovo would begin with the bombing. The White House chose to ignore this advice.
This writer returned to Yugoslavia to compare the media coverage with the facts on the ground. This particular passage was written, on April 19, 1999, at 22.35hrs, as air raid sirens were wailing throughout Belgrade. What was discovered "on the ground" was a very different reality to that being promoted by the US and UK administrations.
Despite claiming victory for the destruction of Yugoslavias oil refining capability, the US and NATO failed to disclose the reality of their air strikes. This writer saw the results of some of the strikes. In the city of Pancevo, virtually a suburb of Belgrade, air strikes had repeatedly hit the oil refinery, the fertilizer factory and the petrochemical plant all among the largest installations of their type in South-Eastern Europe and an aircraft manufacturing facility. The damage was indeed enormous, but, despite repeated claims that only military-related targets were being hit, it was clear that at Pancevo, and at many other locations in Yugoslavia, strictly and unequivocally civil targets were being struck. This, given the precision of the targeting, indicated that the conduct of the war and its objectives were very different than those being cited by the White House.
By April 19, 1999, a conservative estimate concluded that 400,000 to 500,000 Yugoslavs (not counting the Kosovo refugees) out of the appr. 11-million population had directly lost their employment because of the destruction of their factories. This meant that some two-million people were without income. But indirectly, the impact on employment was far greater. When the 300,000 car-a-year automobile factory the one which made the Yugo car was destroyed, for example, all of the component makers were themselves "hit": they lost their customer, forcing their own closure or cutbacks.
At Pancevo alone, some 10,000 people were thrown out of work, and the city began to empty as children were sent to stay with relatives in the country, and those rendered jobless took their families in search of safety.
The air strikes against the oil refinery may have been understandable, given that a legitimate military or strategic target is indeed the fuel supply which services the Armed Forces. But it was struck, on one of the attacks, on the first day of the Orthodox Easter, a pointed reminder that the Clinton White House which had hesitated to launch strikes against Iraq during the Muslim Ramadan holy period of fasting cared little for the sentiments of the Orthodox communities worldwide. This did not pass unnoticed among the 300-million Orthodox Christians around the world.
The total value of the damage in Pancevo was about $1.3-billion, some $650- million of this at the oil refinery, which was hit a total of three times (by April 19, 1999). [Total cost of the war to the Yugo-slav infrastructure during the first 30 days of bombing is estimated at $100-billion.] The flames at the Pancevo oil refinery, soaring 20 meters into the air, and billowing black smoke continued unabated two days after the last of the strikes. The nearby HIP Petrochemija petro-chemical plant was also severely hit, and the careful strikes were not an accidental spillover from the hits on the oil refinery.
Several facts are important with this. There was clearly no strategic or military value to the HIP plant; it was purely a strike to deliberately create hardship and unemployment. This target, and scores (perhaps hundreds) of other air strikes at civilian targets throughout Yugoslavia, demonstrates clearly that the strategic objective presumably dictated by the Clinton White House is the punishment of the Yugoslav population, not (as is stated repeatedly) the "destruction of Miloevics military machine".
This directly contradicts US Secretary of State Madeline Albrights statements to the Yugoslav people, in Serbo-Croat, that she "loves" the Serbian people and does not wish to punish them for the alleged misdeeds of their Federal President. Regardless of President Clintons motives, Secretary Albright clearly harbors enormous animus toward the Serbian people, although those who knew her in Belgrade before and after World War II can recall no incident which might have colored her judgment of Yugoslavia.
But specifically the strike against HIP Petrochemija highlighted the gratuitous campaign against the civil population, rather than military targets. HIP manufactures chlorine for use in PVC. Had chlorine stockpiles been hit, then Pancevo would have lost its entire population to the toxic outflow into the atmosphere. HIP executives, working with town officials, feared air strike damage when the attacks began and worked feverishly to process and move the chlorine. Moving it untreated would have been difficult and would have merely led to further problems. Luckily, at the last minute, the facility was largely emptied of chlorine when the strikes occurred.
On March 24, 1999, however, a Romanian train was at Pancevo railway yard when air strikes began hitting targets less than a kilometer away. About 800 tonnes of chlorine was aboard the train. Had it been hit, most of Belgrades population would have been killed by the toxic out-flow. As it was, the levels of toxicity in the atmosphere after the waves of strikes in Pancevo were many times higher than the safe level. Not all of the toxins came from the oil refinery or the petrochemical plant.
A major fertilizer plant, not far from the refinery and the HIP plant, was also hit: another clear civil target. Here, had the plants liquid ammonia stockpiles been hit, the environmental damage would have been enormous, as in the case of the chlorine. As it was, there was sufficient chlorine and liquid ammonia, coupled with the petroleum which was hit, to create the high toxicity levels in the city and to produce an enormous, lingering cloud which was moving toward Belgrade. The wind shifted and much of the cloud dissipated into the upper atmosphere to flow over other parts of Europe. The fertilizer plant was hit on Western Easter, April 4, killing several workers and injuring dozens more. Ironically, this day was as sacred to the city as Orthodox Easter: a large Slovak and Hungarian population lived near the facility and worked in it. The Reformist and Evangeli-cal Christians from these two communities spent their Easter in mourning. City officials and civilians we spoke with in Pancevo said that they believed that the US targeting of their towns highly-volatile products was evidence of a US policy of genocide toward the Serbs. Why else would they risk such "collateral damage" which could have cost literally millions of lives in the greater Belgrade metro area?
Pancevo was not left alone with the destruction of these three facilities. An air-craft manufacturing facility, Utva Lola Corporation (a joint State/worker owned company like the petrochemical and fertilizer plants) on the edge of the city was completely destroyed by repeated Cruise Missile attacks, starting early in the air war. The facility produced only agricultural aircraft at this stage, although during the previous era under the now-defunct Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY) it produced the Arao indigenous fighter aircraft, an example of which still sits as a monument at the factory gates. This facility, at a stretch, could be considered at least a potential military target. Certainly it could have serviced military aircraft. The factory was hit four times, with damage estimated at $450-million [the capital investment in the plant, high for a facility to make agricultural aircraft, reflected its military aircraft origins]. In the process, some 100 homes were hit, many destroyed. We saw the damaged houses, and the tractor-towed carts of families moving out of the town and into the hoped-for safety of the countryside.
The general impression is that this is an area populated by some 26 ethnic groups, only one of which the Kosovo Albanians has some members which refuse to call themselves "Yugoslav". The Pancevo area is no different: it is home to some 20 ethnic groups. The spires of the churches of a half-dozen different Christian sects dot the city.
By April 19, 1999, it was estimated by Yugoslav authorities that some 1,000 of their citizens had been killed by the bombing and some 6,000 more wounded. Given the extent of the damage seen by this writer, the claims are not difficult to believe.
Some 200 schools had been hit to at least some degree, and schools with about 800,000 students were closed because of the war, and had been since March 24. No one wants to risk a full strike on a school filled with children.
A pipeline on one of the five destroyed Danube bridges carried water to some 600,000 people.
The heating plant in Novi (New) Belgrade was destroyed, cutting off steam heating to about half of Belgrade. A few months earlier, such an attack would have led to widespread death and suffering in the bitter Balkan winter.
These things we saw.