Yeltsin Says Immediate
Response Should Clinton
"Accidentally" Bomb
Russian Embassy

By Matthew Campbell and Stephen Grey
It was, for a tragically short time, the best night of Nato's war. Belgrade was plunged into darkness when the lights failed soon after 9pm on Friday as huge flashes lit up the sky. In rapid succession, explosions tore into the defence ministry, the army general staff headquarters, the interior ministry police headquarters, three electricity transformer yards, a presidential bunker and even the notorious Hotel Jugoslavia where the Serbian war criminal known as Arkan owns a share in the casino.
Then, 500 yards down the street from the hotel, three explosions ripped apart a pink, five-storey building just after midnight - and within minutes Nato found it had committed the worst blunder of this military campaign. It had bombed the Chinese embassy.
As China's fury erupted yesterday, last week's gradually rising hopes of a peace settlement for Kosovo were collapsing once more.
The Chinese embassy stands alone in its own grounds surrounded by grassy open space in a tree-lined avenue in New Belgrade, on the south bank of the Danube, a leafy district of apartment blocks developed in the 1960s. There were 26 people in the concrete building in Ulica Tresnjinog Cveta (Cherry Tree Street) as the Nato bombers flew high overhead. Among them was Shao Yunhuan, a 48-year-old correspondent for the state news agency who had reported the Bosnian war and had returned from Beijing for the Kosovo emergency.
Within seconds, explosions gutted a large section of the ground floor at the front and back of the building. A smaller annexe at the back, which appeared to be residences, was also severely damaged. The only parts of the building to escape unscathed were two ornamental Chinese-style roof sections in green ceramic tiles topped with dragons' heads.
As screams erupted from the wreckage, residents ran from nearby apartment blocks to help. Some of the survivors escaped down a rope of four knotted sheets from a second-floor window. Shao lay dead. Her husband, also a journalist, was among the 20 injured. At least two other people were killed.
Bozana Zumbor, who has an apartment across the street from the embassy, said the force of the explosions lifted her off the bed. She rushed outside and was among the first to reach the embassy just as people were starting to come out. "They were screaming and crying and there was blood, it was terrible," she said.
"It was a shock to me because of the good news we had been having from Bonn" - where the G8 countries and Russia last week reached the basis for a peace agreement.
A rescue worker said: "I can understand one missile gone astray, but not three. They intended to hit this embassy - I don't know why."
Jovica Misic, 52, a bus driver, stood in front of the gutted building. "This is terrible, this is the beginning of the third world war because China supports us and now they hit their embassy," he said.
Admitting its "terrible" mistake yesterday, Nato said the wrong building had been attacked. It thought it was hitting a government procurement centre. "The planned target was the Federal Directorate for the Supply and Procurement in Belgrade," said Jamie Shea, the Nato spokesman. "I understand that the two buildings are close together."
He added, under pressure from journalists: "I've said that we struck the wrong building and I don't know exactly why that happened. That is a subject which is still being investigated."
Shea said there would be no halt to the Nato bombing. "I want to emphasise that Operation Allied Force will continue and we will continue with the same concern to minimise harm to civilians."
The most likely planes used in the attack on the embassy were B2 bombers flying from Whiteman Air Force base in Missouri in the southern United States. They would have delivered their 1,000lb precision-guided bombs from more than 15,000 feet.
One Nato military source said: "These were perfect conditions for a precision bombing run. Pilots can accurately see the ground using infrared vision. This would have been enhanced by the power-outtage which would have reduced confusing hot-spots.
"However, dropping bombs into an urban area is bound to give rise to more possibilities of error. A concentrated, dense and confusing collection of buildings and roads could mean that the pilot just picks up and targets the wrong one."
When news of the embassy bombing broke, China summoned the United Nations security council into an emergency session early yesterday and Peter Burleigh, the deputy American ambassador to the UN, said if Nato was responsible "we are deeply sorry. Nato would never target civilians and never target an embassy". Jeremy Greenstock, the British ambassador, said suggestions that Nato had bombed the Chinese embassy on purpose were a "gross distortion".
The Chinese government denounced the bombing as a "barbarian act". The official media in Beijing, after initial hesitation, gave dramatic coverage to the scenes of chaos and loss of life in Belgrade. People out for a stroll in the Chinese capital yesterday rushed to buy copies of the Beijing Evening News, which printed a graphic report on its front page.
The Chinese leadership - which is fearful of any loss of prestige or any sign of weakness on its part in standing up for Chinese interests on the world stage, but is also aware of the dangers of letting domestic emotions get out of hand - appeared to sanction an outpouring of fury on the streets.
Thousands of angry Chinese demonstrators hurled rocks and bottles at the American embassy in Beijing last night. The protests started among apparently spontaneous groups of passers-by who shouted abuse outside the embassy.
However, they grew in numbers with the arrival of organised busloads of patriotically inspired students carrying banners and placards denouncing the United States. Many wore target symbols like those adopted in Belgrade, with slogans in English, including "F*** Nato".
It was the first large student demonstration in China since the democracy protests at Tiananmen Square that were crushed by the military on June 4, 1989. A cheer of "Hao", meaning "Bravo", went up whenever a plastic water bottle or piece of pavement landed on the building.
The apparently well organised demonstration caused only minor damage - leaving some windows and an external light broken - and the protestors left the area in buses at dusk. But a few hours later about 1,000 protesters regrouped in front of the American embassy and again stoned the compound. The protesters ignored police requests to leave the area and some were seen digging up the road and throwing pieces of it at the embassy.
Attacks on foreigners were also reported and an attempt to burn and overturn an American embassy car, as police numbers at the scene reached 1,000. Several hundred student protesters also gathered outside the nearby British embassy.
The protests spread elsewhere in China, with thousands of demonstrators marching through rainswept streets to the British, American and French consulates in the southern city of Guangzhou. State-controlled local television stations, which normally ban coverage of any unrest, broadcast footage of the march. The American consulate in the southwestern city of Chengdu was set on fire by an angry mob who stormed the building early today. In Shanghai, hundreds marched in the heart of the city's shopping district after holding an afternoon demonstration outside the American consulate.
In Hong Kong, smaller groups of local politicians and trade unionists handed in letters of protest at the British and American consulates. In Washington, the State Department last night advised all American citizens in China to take increased security precautions because of heightened tension over the Kosovo crisis.
China has stridently criticised the Nato airstrikes on Yugoslavia from the outset of the bombing campaign. Last week Qin Huasun, its UN ambassador, said Beijing "firmly opposed any attempt to impose a solution on the federal republic of Yugoslavia".
The Chinese media have not reported the scale or horror of Serbian actions in Kosovo and China remained an important supplier of oil to Yugoslavia until a few days ago, when it cut off deliveries because Belgrade had not paid its bills.
The bombing of the Chinese embassy virtually blotted out Nato's admission that, only a few hours earlier on Friday, a cluster bomb had probably gone astray during an attack on an airfield in the southeastern industrial city of Nis, killing and wounding civilians in a city market, a hospital and nearby houses.
Air raids early on Friday targeted Nis airport. But just before midday, local doctors and municipal officials said the city's main hospital complex and outdoor market came under bombardment.
Reports spoke of three corpses in a street covered with debris. One was of an old woman killed by shrapnel as she carried home carrots from the market. Local police said about 20 unexploded cluster bombs were in the area.
A doctor at the city's main hospital said 15 people had died in the strike. Nine of them died in and around the marketplace, three outside the hospital and three on the operating table, he said.
Nato said a cluster bomb appeared to have missed its target. "Nato aircraft carried out an attack against Nis airfield using combined effects munitions [cluster bombs]," said a spokesman.
"Unfortunately it is highly probable that a weapon went astray and hit civilian buildings. There was no attempt to harm civilians during this strike."
Milovan Bojic, the Serbian deputy prime minister, commented after visiting Nis: "Is it possible that something like this was done only a day after we came closer to a peace agreement?"
THE bombing of the Chinese embassy put Nato on the defensive just as hopes were growing that an end to the conflict might be in sight.
Before it occurred, Milosevic had seemed finally to be looking for a way out of his confrontation. President Bill Clinton had responded with peace moves of his own and Russia had enhanced the odds by endorsing a UN security force for Kosovo.
However, as a permanent member of the security council, China has the power to veto this move.
The hopes for peace were triggered last Sunday when Milosevic released the three American servicemen who had been held captive in Belgrade since the start of the conflict.
He also sent a letter to Clinton, the secret contents of which were paraphrased by a senior administration official as "we want peace". On Monday the Yugoslav leader made another conciliatory gesture, releasing Ibrahim Rugova, the ethnic Albanian leader, who had reportedly been held under house arrest in Belgrade.
Clinton, having spurned Tony Blair's "holy war" scenario, was putting more energy into the diplomatic track by wooing Russia.
The Russians, who had understood from the start that Washington's diplomatic game plan was to win them over in order to heighten Milosevic's isolation, had every reason for relishing the situation.
They had been furious when Nato - fresh from expanding its membership into eastern Europe - began bombing the Yugoslavs. But the alliance's discomfort as its first military operation drags on towards humiliation left a beam on the face of the balding Russian whose limousine swept into the drive of the White House on Monday.
The bushy eyebrows and striped tie of Viktor Chernomyrdin, the former Russian prime minister, are a familiar sight in the power centre of this administration. For years he had been dropping in to see Al Gore, the vice-president, to discuss technical and scientific co-operation. The two men were said to have become friends. "I'm not here to be Milosevic's advocate," he told Clinton and his advisers when they met in the White House.
Indeed, he brought an unacceptable overture from Belgrade - Milosevic was offering to withdraw only half of his forces from Kosovo in exchange for a halt in the bombing - yet the Americans purred approvingly at the friendliness of the messenger.
"He's a no-nonsense kind of guy," said a senior administration official. "The Russians are motivated. They want a solution."
Chernomyrdin's meeting with Clinton was followed by extensive talks with Gore in the vice-president's cramped office in the west wing of the White House and the exercise room at his mansion on Massachusetts Avenue.
The next day, White House aides were talking about a "turning point" in the conflict. Perhaps more than any other Nato leader, Clinton was concerned about the increasing political costs of the war. His popularity in opinion polls was dipping, as was support for the air campaign.
It was a point reinforced when General Klaus Naumann, the retiring German head of Nato's military arm, confessed to a press conference in Brussels: "Quite frankly and honestly, we did not succeed in our initial attempts to coerce Milosevic through airstrikes to accept our demands.
"Nor did we succeed in preventing Yugoslavia pursuing a campaign of ethnic separation and expulsion."
Clinton reviewed this strategy as he prepared to fly the Atlantic to visit Nato headquarters in Brussels on Wednesday.
At their Washington summit last month the allies had agreed to intensify the bombing in an attempt to bring Milosevic to his knees.
Nato was still relentlessly pounding oil storage depots and managing to knock out the electricity temporarily in Belgrade. Pentagon officials were confidently predicting that Milosevic's forces in Kosovo would run out of fuel within six weeks.
In Brussels, Clinton was given another upbeat assessment by General Wesley Clark, the supreme allied commander in Europe, on the damage being done by Nato to Milosevic's forces.
However, America was suffering its own damage. A second Apache helicopter had crashed on training missions even before being deployed against the enemy; and the delay in putting these craft into battle was interpreted by some as evidence of the little headway Nato had made in destroying Serbian air defences, to which the high-tech, low-flying Apaches would be particularly vulnerable.
Clark briefed Clinton on plans to use a ground force to take Kosovo if Milosevic did not back down. But the American leader appeared to be banking on another outcome.
On the surface he played the role of the commander-in-chief, donning a bomber jacket to visit American military bases in Germany, calling Milosevic an evil despot and promising refugees from Kosovo that "you will go home again".
Yet he was buoyed not by the military prospects but by a growing conviction that a negotiated solution was in sight.
Russia was about to sign a declaration reached by America, Britain and the other G8 countries meeting in Bonn which proposed the deployment of an international security force in Kosovo "with Nato at its core".
This was a reversal not just in Russian policy but in perceived western war aims. Milosevic, reviled in Washington as a bloodsucking monster who should be overthrown, would continue in power and would not even have to withdraw all his forces from Kosovo.
Whereas previous declarations by the allies had insisted that Milosevic should withdraw all his forces as a condition for a halt to the bombing campaign, the G8 statement omitted any use of the word "all".
There was a hiccup to this unfolding scenario when word reached Washington of a bizarre incident in Moscow on Thursday.
President Boris Yeltsin was handing out awards in the Kremlin when he began ranting incoherently.
"Nobody - just let Clinton, a little bit, accidentally, send a missile," he mumbled. "We'll answer immediately." He went on: "We don't want . . . such impudence.
"To unleash a war on a sovereign state. Without Security Council. Without United Nations. It could only be possible in a time of barbarism."
Washington was thrown into turmoil. Clinton and Yeltsin had spoken three times in the past three weeks in a mood of general cordiality.
The White House chose to play down the outburst. "Yeltsin has said odd things before," said a presidential adviser, referring to the leader's reputation for erratic behaviour that some have linked to illness or alcohol. Yeltsin has, however, deployed his "eccentricity" previously to hammer home the Russian point of view.
Clinton continued to talk up the developing peace proposal on Friday, comparing it to the Bosnia peacekeeping model. "What we did in Bosnia was functional," he told journalists on the south lawn of the White House. The same day, the Kosovo Liberation Army rejected the proposed settlement as unacceptable because it did not include Kosovo's independence - an indication of just how dangerous a job the peacekeeping force would have.
The exact composition of the force will be discussed over the next few days. Chernomyrdin is touring European capitals and American diplomats will hold talks in Moscow before he returns to Belgrade with a peace proposal which he believes he can sell to Milosevic.
Various options are being debated. One, according to administration officials, would be to create two separate command structures. Nato would be deployed in most of the country, supervising the return of refugees, while a non-Nato contingent from Russia, Belarus and Ukraine under a "Slavic" command would be placed in northern Kosovo, home to most of the province's Serbs and their religious monuments. This arrangement would constitute partition and enable Milosevic to claim victory for having saved a piece of Kosovo from Nato occupation.
The preferred option, some Nato diplomats say, would be an internationally guaranteed protectorate similar to that existing in Bosnia, where 30,000 peacekeeping troops have been deployed. Kosovo would get a "glorified Unprofor", similar to the UN force in Bosnia but with much stronger rules of engagement. It would include American and other Nato forces.
After the rising hopes of the previous few days, Washington was again being cautious yesterday - not just because of the Chinese embassy debacle but because the success of any peace plan still depends more on Milosevic than on Russia or Nato.
"The problem is Milosevic," said an administration official. "The Russians want an end to this war. But they don't necessarily have any decisive influence over Belgrade."
Another said: "Don't hold your breath. This could go on for weeks."
DOWN the street from the stricken embassy in Belgrade yesterday, Arkan - whose real name is Zeljko Raznjatovic - watched as people shovelled glass and debris from the entrance of Hotel Jugoslavija. He said an elderly porter, a refugee from Krajina, had been killed and several more employees had been injured by the bomb that hit the building. The casino, of which he owns 35% in partnership with an Italian businessman and lawyer, suffered a broken window but was otherwise intact.
"Is it possible that they hit the hotel just because of me? Am I that important?" Arkan asked. "They are really mad dogs. They are after me because they want to kill me, and they are after Milosevic because they want to kill him, too."
The paramilitary leader, who has been accused of war crimes in Bosnia and Kosovo, insisted that none of his soldiers, the "Tigers", had ever stayed at the Jugoslavia. He said only players from his football team had stayed there in the past. "If they were thinking that this was the Tigers' headquarters, then the CIA is not doing its job properly," he said.
Rousing himself into a fury, he issued a personal challenge to Nato: "If you are as powerful as you think you are, come on the ground, show us your face. I will fight you."
Additional reporting: Lara Santoro, Belgrade