War Briefing: Days 66 and 67

 

NATO's campaign:

The Yugoslav news agency, Tanjug, confirms reports that Belgrade is prepared to accept the "general principles" of the settlement plan drawn up by the G8 group of seven major western powers plus Russia. Said Jamie Shea: "Anything that means that Belgrade moves towards those five conditions is something that we will welcome, but at the same time we will remain cautious, because details in this business are everything." He was speaking after a further 24 hours of air raids, with NATO claiming it had conducted 697 "sorties" - bringing the total since the conflict began to 29,979.

In Bonn, Gunter Verheugen, deputy foreign minister and Chancellor Schroder's EU policy co-ordinator, admits mistakes have been made "that cannot be glossed over". The 19-nation NATO alliance should, nonetheless, keep bombing while pursuing a diplomatic solution, he says. Meanwhile, at least 11 people were killed and 40 injured by NATO bombing on a bridge in Varvarin, some 160 km south of Belgrade, yesterday, Tanjug claimed. NATO could not confirm the details last night.

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar on a visit to Albania says any settlement of the Kosovo crisis must not involve a carve-up of the war-ravaged province along the lines of the post-second World War partition of Germany.

Refugees:

Refugees in Macedonia's overflowing camps struggle to keep cool as aid workers brace themselves for a blazing Balkan summer, while keeping the prospect of a harsh winter in mind. Weekend temperatures are not unusual, rising towards 30 degrees, but tens of thousands of refugees attempt to seek shade wherever they can in the exposed camps.

But while heat is the main concern at the camps this weekend, some veteran aid workers warn that winter could prove to be an even harsher test. It is time, they say, to prepare refugees for the possibility that they may not be home before the cold weather comes. Some agencies have already begun to prepare for winter.

Aid agencies are struggling to convince Kosovo refugees to move from Macedonia's overcrowded camps to Albania but most are refusing to budge. When a bus arrives on Sunday at the Blace camp on the border with Kosovo to pick up 50 refugees who have registered for a lift to Albania, only 30 show up. Only 600 out of more than 300,000 refugees who have fled to Macedonia, voluntarily moved on to Albania.

Aid agencies think that although close to a million people have fled Kosovo since fighting began in March 1998, about 600,000 ethnic Albanians are still trapped and eager to get out.

Macedonia is not only buckling under the weight of refugees on its struggling economy but is also nervous it will upset its own delicate ethnic mix. Ethnic Albanians already comprise one in four of the population.

Animals:

The noise starts around half an hour before the bombs fall as the animals in Belgrade zoo pick up the sound of approaching planes and missiles, director Vuk Bojovic says: "It's one of the strangest and most disturbing concerts you can hear anywhere. I've made a record every hour of each day of when the animals start acting up. One day, when this craziness is over, I'd like to check it with reliable data on when the planes were flying.

The zoo had been hardest hit when NATO attacked Belgrade's B power system, and indirectly the water supply: "I had 1,000 eggs of rare and endangered species incubating, some of them ready to hatch in a couple of days. They were all ruined. That's 1,000 lives lost."

Meat in the zoo's freezer defrosted and went off, making it suitable only to scavengers like hyenas and vultures. Belgrade people donated meat out of their home freezers when the power went down, "but most of it wasn't even fit for animals".

And. . .

Pope John Paul, speaking from Ancona on the Adriatic coast facing the former Yugoslavia, makes pressing appeal for peace in Kosovo, saying the human tragedy in the Balkans marks "a heavy defeat for humanity". Ancona, whose military airport is sometimes used as a transit and logistical support point by NATO, is one of a string of Italian cities on the Adriatic whose lives and economies have been affected by the two-month conflict on the other side of the sea.

Quote of the Weekend:

"The majority of people in this country feel like prisoners at present, hideously vulnerable to an outside force that can strike them at any time it chooses, according to a logic they cannot understand." John Simpson, BBC world affairs editor in Belgrade.