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NATO hits Serbia's northern province hard

Repeated bombing of targets in Vojvodina have also damaged pro- Westernsentiment.

Just a few months ago, the northern Serbian province of Vojvodina was a symbol of resistance to Slobodan Milosevic's regime.

It was a place where opposition political leaders spoke of Western-style reform, where ethnic minorities lived in harmony, and where much of the population favored greater autonomy from Belgrade.

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Some Western diplomats even hoped Vojvodina would be spared if NATO decided to bomb Yugoslavia.

But just the opposite has happened.

Vojvodina, an agricultural center with pockets of industry, has become a ground zero in NATO's bombing campaign against Yugoslavia - and nearly all pro-Western sentiment has been crushed.

"They bombed us all but three nights," says a worker at a regional government building, where a NATO rocket blasted a hole through the fifth-floor wall big enough for a car to drive through.

In Novi Sad, the provincial capital, all three bridges across the Danube River have been significantly damaged; Yugoslavia's transportation network is a military target, NATO has said. Oil refineries in Pancevo - a possible source of fuel for armed forces - have gone up in flames. And a grand marble building constructed in the 1930s, home of the regional government headquarters, is in ruins.

"It is something only a monster would do," said Bosko Perosevic, the president of the regional government, as he stood before a group of Western journalists who were taken on a brief Army-regulated tour of Novi Sad.

One possible explanation for bombing Vojvodina is that NATO may be preparing a route should it decide to use ground troops. If NATO were to invade, as many think it may, it would probably do so at least partially through Hungary, a new NATO member that borders Serbia in the north. Therefore, it would need to pave the way by wiping out Vojvodina's command and defense structures, says a political analyst in Belgrade.

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Air-defense systems in Vojvodina and elsewhere in Yugoslavia were supposed to have been taken out, or at least severely hampered, in the first phase of airstrikes. The Yugoslav strategy, however, has been to hide surface-to-air missiles and prepare for a protracted fight, according to Miroslav Lazanski, a military analyst in Belgrade.

In fact, "This is the first war in the last 10 years where our army has been doing its job: protecting our borders," says an independent political analyst in Belgrade. "In Croatia and Bosnia, morale was low; there were conscientious objectors. This is different; this is what they have been trained to do. Morale has never been higher."

Perhaps most important, the democratic opposition in Vojvodina - once a bright spot in Yugoslavia's otherwise dismal political scene - has become a vociferous enemy of NATO.

"They don't know what they're doing," says Aleksandar Ivkovac, an executive board member of the Novi Sad City Council and a member of a progressive opposition party. "They shouldn't expect us to go in the streets waving American flags. NATO showed they only understand the policy of violence."

Mr. Ivkovac, who was reached by phone, theorizes as do others that Vojvodina is being struck so frequently to destroy the Serbian economy. The region, with a population of 2 million, is the country's agricultural center, having produced nearly half of Serbia's gross domestic product last year.

Ivkovac says the first two destroyed bridges had no military uses. One, which was barely strong enough to support buses, led to a centuries-old stone fortress in Petrovaradin. The other connected Novi Sad with Ribnjak, a small village, and was not used as a main transportation link. Both were favorite walking bridges for the people of Novi Sad.

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