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Attacks on Serbian Power Grid Bring New Impact on Civilians

By Daniel Williams

For citizens of Belgrade and other Serbian cities, NATO attacks on major power plants have made plain that from now on the battle for Kosovo will be as near to them as the refrigerator that no longer works, the faucets that barely drip, the oven that stays cold, the elevators that won’t run, the traffic lights that have gone dark and the bread that arrives late from bakeries that no longer operate through the night.

More frequent air attacks on largely civilian targets, coupled with a growing number of civilian casualties from errant NATO bombs, have left residents here tense, angry and mystified. The giddy defiance of the early days of the allied air assault, when thousands of people across Serb-led Yugoslavia pinned paper targets on their backs, challenging NATO warplanes to attack them, has given way to wonder about how long the bombing can go on.

Sometimes, hostility is directed only at NATO and the United States, but on occasion also at the Yugoslav government of President Slobodan Milosevic. Everyone seems to be clamoring for some sort of negotiated end to the conflict, no matter their opinion of its cause.

“I take this opportunity to send a message to the world and our leadership that all this must stop,” said Milvoje Marjanovic, a retiree in the Serbian town of Valjevo.

Valjevo, which lies about 60 miles southwest of Belgrade, received a double shock from NATO aircraft Sunday. Bombs apparently aimed at a nearby tank-parts factory destroyed a two-story house and shattered windows and facades of surrounding apartment buildings. Two more bombs from the same attack landed on the grounds of the local hospital, breaking windows and sending glass shards into at least two operating rooms. The government reported 17 injuries.

Then, late Sunday night, the lights went out. Like many parts of Serbia, Valjevo gets its electricity from the Obrenovac power and redistribution station outside Belgrade. NATO’s attack on Obrenovac -- as well as on power facilities in Drmno, Kostoloc, Bajina Basta and Novi Sad -- short-circuited power grids and plunged much of the republic into darkness. Sporadic power outages continued throughout Monday in Belgrade and the rest of Serbia -- the dominant partner in the Yugoslav federation. Hospitals, most of which have standby generators, were assigned top priority for restoration of power.