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U.S. to Pay $4.5 Million for Bombing of Chinese Embassy in Yugoslavia

TIMES STAFF WRITER

U.S. officials Friday agreed to pay $4.5 million to the families of those killed and wounded in the NATO bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, in May.

After three days of talks on his second trip here this month, U.S. State Department legal advisor David Andrews announced the decision to provide what the U.S. terms “humanitarian payments” to the bombing victims and their families. The money, Andrews said, would be given to the Chinese government to divide and disburse, at Beijing’s discretion, to the families of the three people killed and 27 injured in the attack.

But mindful of concern that such payments might be construed as outright compensation and might spur similar claims for damages following future military actions, Andrews said the decision should not be viewed as setting a precedent.

“The U.S. has made clear that this payment will be entirely voluntary and does not acknowledge any legal liability,” Andrews told reporters after wrapping up intensive negotiations with his counterpart at the Chinese Foreign Ministry. “This payment will not create any precedent.”

Talks over restitution for the destruction of the Chinese Embassy, as well as return compensation for damage inflicted by Chinese protesters on U.S. diplomatic missions here following the bombing, will be held next month, Andrews said.

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The announcement of the payout to the families should help nudge the U.S. and China closer toward patching up frayed relations, at their lowest point in three years. Since the May 8 bombing, China has demanded compensation for the loss of lives and property, the punishment of those responsible and a full accounting of the missile strike, which the North Atlantic Treaty Organization insists was a mistake born of faulty maps, but which many here believe was a deliberate attack.

Andrews said the decision reflects the importance the White House attaches to Sino-U.S. ties. The agreement, inked in a memorandum of understanding signed by the two sides Friday, also comes at a time when China’s official press has recently begun to express Beijing’s desire for better relations after excoriating the U.S. for weeks after the bombing.

But as to whether acceptance of the payout represented any softening of China’s rejection of the U.S. explanation of the attack, Andrews said, “That’s not an issue we discussed. . . . You really need to ask the Chinese side about their position.”

Andrews described the negotiations as “very professional and very courteous” but declined to give details, including how the two sides arrived at the $4.5-million figure, which reportedly was a compromise between a $2-million initial offer by the U.S. and a demand by the Chinese for $7 million.

Andrews dismissed speculation that the amount was based on a formula similar to that used for compensating families of passengers aboard an Iranian jetliner shot down by an American warship in 1988. The bombing of the Chinese Embassy was an extraordinary situation without precedent, he said.

The Clinton administration will give formal notification of the payout Monday to Congress, although no legislative approval is required, Andrews said.


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