NATO countries may be fighting their war against Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic, but in the eyes of ordinary Serbs, four weeks of air raids have meticulously destroyed the works of many generations.
For the first time in years, Yugoslav official statistics and independent analyses coincide: the month-long NATO air campaign has caused more damage to the country than the Nazi German occupation between the end of 1941 and mid-1944.
«According to our estimates, the total economic damage caused by NATO aggression and measured in relation to gross domestic product will likely exceed that caused in World War II,» Group-17, a caucus of independent, market-oriented economists said this week.
«We are drawing the attention of the international community to the fact that the NATO aggression on Yugoslavia represents an act of brutal retaliation against an entire nation and not a punishment of Milosevic's war machinery,» the group added.
According to statistics released by the Yugoslav government, 517 civilians have been killed all over Serbia since the NATO air campaign began. The report did not specify how many of them were ethnic Albanians.
The direct damage inflicted on industrial, commercial and civil facilities and structure exceeds 10 billion US dollars, while indirect war damage can be put at several dozen billion US dollars, as more than 500.000 people have lost their workplaces , official and independent experts coincide.
The official report adds that 11 important bridges on key routes have been destroyed, while 12 important railway points and six major roads are damaged to the point that they are not functional. Seven airports all over Serbia and Montenegro have been badly damaged, of which only three are of military nature.
«Group 17» warned against further destruction of industrial facilities in Serbia, where oil, chemical, car, fertiliser, construction machinery and home appliances plants have already been badly hit.
The Yugoslav government named 40 industrial sites, 16 refineries and chemical plants, and six agriculture complexes as having been totally destroyed since March 24.
Sixteen hospitals and health care centres were targeted, while over 190 schools, faculties or facilities for students and children have been damaged or destroyed, on top of 17 television transmitters.
The number of private houses damaged or destroyed is given as «several thousand» in towns and small villages all over the country.
Heavy damage has been inflicted upon 17 mediaeval monasteries and churches, plus eight sites classified as «historical heritage.»
Group 17, whose members work both in the country and abroad, also coincided with government assessments of an ecological disaster of regional dimension.
«With these attacks, the alliance has consciously risked a global environmental catastrophe which could result in pestilence of a huge number of people,» the group warned.
In its report, the Government estimates that more than 2,000 cruise missiles have been launched were launched against Yugoslavia and over 6,000 tons of explosives were dropped over its territory in about 7,000 NATO combat missions.
The report did not quote its sources, but analysts in Belgrade say it came from the military.
The Yugoslav Army (VJ) is reluctant to provide statistics on damage inflicted upon it since March 24. So far, it has only announced the death of 10 soldiers, but the number is believed to be larger, judging by the long obituaries in Serbian dailies.
Military sources limit themselves to saying that «most of (Yugoslavia's) anti-aircraft systems, support and other systems have suffered only minor damage».
«We're still highly movable, we're on our own terrain and we do have support from our people» a highly placed military source told IPS. «We know that we are not a match for NATO, our aim is not to win, we (just) have to defend our people» he added.
General Nebojsa Pavkovic, commander of the Third Army, based in Pristina (Kosovo), told journalists earlier this week that the effects of NATO campaign were «negligible» so far.
He said his units alone had downed 16 NATO planes, five helicopters, 46 cruise missiles and four unmanned aircraft. So far, NATO has admitted losing one fighter plane, a F-117A Stealth fighter, shot down early in the war and a few unmanned aircraft.
Seen on television screens from a comfortable distance, the highly publicised attacks on Milosevic's house, the Serbian Television building or the Socialist party headquarters might look like good scores for NATO pilots.
But from the inside, ordinary Serbs see such scores as a symbol of the country's painful devastation.
«It has come to the point where nobody seems to remember why this really started» says Predrag Simic of Belgrade Institute for International Politics and Economy.
«The destruction of such proportions does not look like it has anything to do with bringing the ethnic Albanian refugees back to Kosovo or tuning down the military machinery of Serbia...It looks completely different. It's a NATO war against Serbia.»
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