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Thursday, April 22, 1999 Published at 14:56 GMT 15:56 UK

World: Europe

Nato: Milosevic not target

Yugoslav officials branded the bombing an "assassination attempt"

Nato has denied trying to kill Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic after bombing one of his homes in Belgrade.

Kosovo: Special Report
President Milosevic and his family were not in the house in the exclusive Dedinje residential area of the Yugoslav capital when Nato missiles struck.

The building was extensively damaged - one of the side walls completely destroyed.

Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon said: "We are not targeting President Milosevic or the Serb people. We are targeting the military and the military infrastructure that supports the instruments of oppression in Kosovo." US law bans any attempt to assassinate foreign leaders.

Meanwhile, the Yugoslav president held talks on Thursday with Russian envoy Viktor Chernomyrdin in an apparent attempt to resolve the Kosovo crisis.

Michael Williams reports on the bombing of the Milosevic residence
The former Russian prime minister was expected to deliver proposals for a ceasefire and the withdrawal of military forces from the province, followed by the return of refugees under an international peacekeeping force.

Yugoslav Government officials had branded Thursday's pre-dawn attack on the president's home as an assassination attempt and an organised terrorist attack.

Minister without Portfolio Goran Matic told reporters: "At 0310 Nato committed a criminal act without precedence - an assassination attempt against the president of a sovereign state."

Military command

Mr Bacon said the house was an integral part of the overall military command structure for Yugoslav forces.

[ image: Nato targeted President Milosevic's political HQ]
Nato targeted President Milosevic's political HQ
"We are going against the very nervous system that is used to control the military and security forces."

The Pentagon spokesman said the residence was "a command and control system that includes bunkers. Much of the military and security forces are run out of a variety of residences, office buildings and office buildings throughout the country, particularly in the Belgrade area. They are all interconnected."

Nato has recently pledged to increasingly concentrate on targets directly associated with Mr Milosevic. It struck the heart of his political base on Tuesday night with an attack on an office block containing the headquarters of his governing Socialist party.

The attack on the Milosevic residence was one of a series of heavy detonations reported in the Yugoslav capital overnight.

(Click here for a map showing latest strikes)

Serb media also reported that 20 missiles hit the airfield in Batajnica and 10 missiles targeted the Krusik factory in Valjevo, damaging apartment buildings and the hospital.

The Pentagon said on Thursday that Nato air strikes had inflicted damage on all four major routes from the Serbian heartland to Kosovo, cutting supplies to Yugoslav forces by half.

Ground troops option

With no sign of a let-up in Nato's air campaign, the alliance's commanders were instructed by Secretary-General Javier Solana to revise and update plans for a possible deployment of ground troops in Kosovo.

The BBC's Jon Sopel: "The most vexed question of all - when will it be safe to deploy ground troops?"
He told the Washington Post that the "circumstances" of the conflict had made it necessary to show the Yugoslav Government that "all options are on the table".

However, he said he was certain that the air campaign would succeed, and that the alliance was far from any political decision to use ground troops.

Both the US and the UK have refused to exclude the deployment of ground troops.

Land corridor

US Defence Secretary William Cohen acknowledged on Wednesday that a ground offensive "can happen very quickly".

[ image:  ]
He told a House subcommittee that while a ground assault was not being considered, such a campaign could include 200,000 or more Nato troops for a full invasion of Yugoslavia or 75,000 troops for a limited ground operation in Kosovo.

A decision by both the Czech and Slovak Governments on Wednesday to allow Nato to transport ground forces through their territory means that the alliance now has a land corridor from Germany to Yugoslavia's border with Hungary through which to move troops if it decided to launch a ground war.

The alliance has also been given broader air options after the Romanian parliament voted overwhelmingly to grant Nato unrestricted access to the country's air space for its air campaign.

Direct talks

However, the Yugoslav president said in a US TV interview on Wednesday evening that it would be easy to find a solution to the Kosovo crisis if Nato stopped the bombing.

But, in the rare interview, recorded in Belgrade on Monday, he said that the province's problems could only be solved in direct talks between Yugoslavia and Kosovo Albanians - without international mediators.

He also blamed Nato for the flood of refugees from Kosovo.

The UN refugee agency, the UNHCR, has warned of a humanitarian disaster in Macedonia if the authorities continue to prevent aid reaching the thousands of Kosovo Albanians trapped in a mountainous border area, with thousands more on the way.

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