Cover Story

Night Terrors

Westerners hear many stories about, and see many pictures of, the horror Kosovar Albanians are suffering. But few have heard about conditions for everyday Serbs. An American missionary recently in Yugoslavia tells WORLD about the bombing, the fear, and how Serbs are rallying behind Milosovic.

Issue: "Not-so-smart bombs," April 24, 1999

Last night was the scariest night of my life," wrote missionary Martha McComb during the first week of NATO bombing over Yugoslavia. She told her friends back in the United States, "I had to stop writing last time because of the sirens. All electric plugs have to be unplugged. The sirens came steadily until 8:00 when the bombs started coming. There was a blackout in the city. I was with Bata and Sladjana, the pastors here, and their children. We were all on one couch against a wall with blankets and pillows over our heads. With all the lights out, with our shoes on, with our passports in our pockets in case of hasty retreat-or death-we kept the children between Sladjana and I. Bata knelt over us shielding us from possible broken glass and debris that would come with the bombing."

That evening, nine NATO rockets hit Nis, the city of about 200,000 people, 150 miles south of Belgrade, where Miss McComb has been posted for Youth With a Mission since 1996.

One rocket came within 200 yards of her house. She said, "It was horrible, you could hear the planes coming, then the rockets and then you didn't know how close it would come. The children would start crying, we were praying and then they would hit, one after the other after the other."

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NATO planes targeted military installations and barracks in Nis, where the Third Army Corps is located. The windows above Miss McComb shook, even though they had been opened to prevent glass from exploding. She and fellow church members became physically sick, awaiting both the torrent of deadly firepower around them and the deadening silence between each attack.

Westerners have seen ample evidence of the havoc brought upon Kosovo's Albanians as they have been forced from their homes and sent into exile by the army forces of President Slobodan Milosevic. Reports of rape are growing, foreign medical workers said. People are killed with no evident pattern, and farm animals, dogs, and cats are put to death as a matter of course.

By now, according to the United Nations, fewer than a million ethnic Albanians are left in Kosovo, and nearly half of them are displaced, hiding in forests and mountains. No one knows how many displaced people remain in Kosovo, but 400,000 seems a reasonable estimate, said UN spokesman Jacques Frankquin. This past week, Mr. Milosevic's forces expanded their aggression against Albanians, seizing a border hamlet in northern Albania and torching homes before withdrawing, according to Albanian officials and international observers.

Yet, grim stories on the other side also deserve telling. With Western press and cameras ejected from much of Yugoslavia at the start of the NATO action, capturing life inside enemy territory has been more difficult. When Miss McComb began sending e-mail describing the plight of the war's Serbian victims, it received instant and expansive circulation on the Internet.

Russian and Yugoslav sources say at least 400 civilians have been killed in the course of NATO strikes against military targets. NATO officials say the number is lower, but acknowledge that collateral loss is inevitable in the operation. "We regret any unintended damage or loss of civilian life," has been a phrase used by more than one Brussels spokesman as the bombing campaign wears on.

On April 10, ten passengers on a train in southern Serbia were killed and dozens more injured when the train crossed a bridge just as a NATO jet fired a missile meant to destroy the span. The week before, at least a dozen people were killed when an errant missile struck an apartment complex in Aleksinac. In addition to death and injury, much of the surrounding area in the mining town of 17,000 was completely destroyed.

Likewise in Nis, not far from Aleksinac, collateral damage was actually more severe than reported. Several downtown buildings were destroyed. Whole streets that housed military facilities were gone, as were houses, shops, and other businesses within blocks of the military installations. At a local university, missiles leveled student dorms and a cafeteria, along with power facilities. Storage facilities for humanitarian aid administered by one Baptist church were bombed, ending an ongoing relief project.

The psychological toll is rising, too, with diminishing supplies and unnerving, now nearly round-the-clock attacks. "The anger and hatred grows with each hour," said Miss McComb. "A nation that was on the verge of change has now been unified against a common enemy and has rallied around the only seeming savior around-Milosevic."


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