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Stray NATO Missile Strikes Empty House in Bulgaria

By Carol J. Williams
LOS ANGELES TIMES -- BRUSSELS, Belgium

A NATO warplane inadvertently fired a missile into a suburb of Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, heightening concerns about the accuracy of the alliance air campaign only a day after a laser-guided bomb fell short of its target and killed civilians in southern Yugoslavia.

Despite the errant air-to-ground HARM missile that destroyed an empty house 30 miles from the border with Yugoslavia late Wednesday, NATO officials claimed a successful day of airstrikes against Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic’s still-vast arsenal.

NATO officials said several days of attacks near Podgorica, the capital of Montenegro, showed the limits to the alliance’s deference toward the smaller Yugoslav republic, whose pro-West leaders oppose Milosevic.

“While NATO strongly supports the democratic government in Montenegro, we have no choice when it comes to protecting the security of our forces and disabling the capacity of military assets that support the campaign of repression of Belgrade in Kosovo,” NATO spokesman Jamie Shea told reporters, noting that the Yugoslav regime had been using the airfield as a sanctuary for military hardware.

The latest NATO raids came as U.S., Russian, German and U.N. diplomats scurried around Europe in search of a coordinated approach on a negotiated solution, with Moscow’s special envoy for the Balkans airing what he said was a new proposal. But all conceded prospects for peace remain distant.

In other developments in the Balkans crisis:

--NATO forces stuck close to Belgrade, the Yugoslav capital, and Pristina, the provincial capital of Kosovo, on Thursday night and early Friday. Explosions and anti-aircraft fire were reported near an oil refinery northwest of the Yugoslav capital, and Serbian television went off the air during an evening newscast when an explosion toppled a transmitter on a hill overlooking the city. Two loud explosions were heard in Pristina shortly after midnight.

--Yugoslavia filed accusations with the World Court in The Hague, Netherlands, that 10 NATO states were violating international law with the airstrikes. Going before the United Nations’ highest judicial body, Yugoslavia demanded an immediate end to the bombardment. The White House and State Department dismissed the move as “absurd.”

--Fourteen countries in Eastern Europe and neutral states outside NATO and the European Union expressed support for an oil embargo being organized to further starve Yugoslavia of fuel for its war machine.

--The Rev. Jesse Jackson arrived in Belgrade with a delegation of religious leaders on a mission to win freedom for three U.S. soldiers who were captured March 31. He said he hoped to meet with Milosevic as well as the POWs. The Clinton administration has urged him to tell Milosevic that there can be no link between a halt in NATO’s airstrikes and the release of the soldiers.

--More than 6,500 refugees arrived in Macedonia on Thursday, the third day in a row that the tide of refugees has increased. Three refugees, including a 12-year-old girl, were killed when a mine exploded as they attempted to cross from Yugoslavia northwest of Blace, Macedonia, according to U.N. and Macedonian reports.

--In Greece, anti-NATO protesters held up a trainload of British troops and military equipment headed for neighboring Macedonia, then fooled another convoy passing through Salonika by switching road signs and diverting the trucks and all-terrain vehicles in the wrong direction.

--On Capitol Hill, the House Appropriations Committee approved by a voice vote a $12.9 billion spending package that not only helps pay for the Kosovo conflict but also boosts military pay and readiness.