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Yugoslavia: NATO Investigating Refugee Deaths During Bomb Attack

London, 15 April 1999 (RFE/RL) - NATO says it is investigating whether civilians were killed during a NATO attack on a military convoy yesterday, as Yugoslavia claims. NATO spokesman Jamie Shea told the BBC today that the pilots struck only at military vehicles during yesterday's attack in Kosovo. Yugoslavia says more than 60 civilian refugees were killed and others wounded when NATO bombed a civilian convoy. Yugoslav television has shown film of the dead and wounded.

Shea said the circumstances surrounding the attack were being investigated. NATO was trying to piece the facts together from video films and by interviewing the pilots. At this time, NATO could not rule out the possibility that there might have been what he called "collateral damage" following the NATO attack on Serb military vehicles.

In a separate report, a BBC correspondent who has interviewed some of the survivors who reached Kukes in Albania, say it is uncertain which planes were involved. He said it appears there were two convoys -- a military convoy on the main road and a convoy including refugees on another road. He said NATO certainly hit one convoy but it was possible that low-flying Serb planes attacked the other.

A BBC correspondent in Kukes said all the refugee stories gave the same account -- there were two passes by the aircraft and four bombs were dropped. Two were on either side of the civilian convoy and the third in the middle. The fourth bomb is said to have dropped further away.

German Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping said late last night that Serb artillery, not NATO planes, hit the refugee convoy. Scharping said "everything points to it being Serbian artillery, not NATO planes." He said he made the statement based on information from NATO headquarters in Brussels.

Meanwhile, Serbian media report that NATO airstrikes early today destroyed a bridge in central Serbia, and hit an army barracks in a suburb of Belgrade. The official news agency Tanjug reported the bridge over the river Zapadna Morava near Krusevac, 110 kms south of Belgrade, was hit. Studio B television reported an army barracks at Rakovica, about eight kms from the center of Belgrade, also was hit.

Tanjug said a Serbian RTS television transmitter southwest of Belgrade had been struck by a NATO missile shortly after midnight. Powerful explosions also were heard in Belgrade and Pristina. Tanjug said there were other attacks in Krusevac, Cacak, Kragujevac, Valjevo and Uzice. There was no independent confirmation of the reports.

In Macedonia, about 1,000 displaced ethnic Albanians fleeing Kosovo were kept waiting at the Macedonian border today by Macedonian police until shelter is found.

The deportees had spent the night in the neutral zone at Jazince, some 60 km northwest of the capital Skopje. Police had let some 300-400 ethnic Albanians into the country before closing the border.

Most Kosovars came from the southern areas of Urosevac and Gniljane. Some said they were evicted by Serb forces while others said they fled on tractors, cars and on foot in fear of continued violence at the hands of the Serbs. They said that as soon as they left, Serbs began burning their villages.

The UN refugee agency and Macedonia say they believe as many as 7,000 more Kosovars are headed to the Macedonian border. More than 4,000 arrived yesterday.

In neighboring Albania, some 3,600 Kosovars arrived yesterday and groups were still crossing early this morning. One group said they had been marching for up to four days. The UN says some 534,000 Kosovars have now been deported and thousands more are displaced inside Kosovo.

A UN Refugee agency spokesman said Kosovars arriving in Albania were telling aid workers that Prizren -- Kosovo's main southern city -- would be the next city targeted for ethnic cleansing by Serbs.

Meanwhile, NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana says NATO is hopeful of resolving differences with Russia over the crisis in Kosovo. Solana said in an interview today in London's Financial Times that bringing Russia "back on board" over the Kosovo issue is a priority for NATO. Russia has opposed NATO's airstrikes on Serbian targets and has urged a diplomatic solution to the crisis.

Solana said a meeting of the Group of Eight -- the world's leading industrialized democracies including Russia -- on Kosovo could take place within a few days, possibly followed by a meeting of the U.N. Security Council.

He said NATO could not accept Russia's demand that an international security force that NATO wants to be implemented in Kosovo be non-military. Solana said the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe's observer mission in Kosovo had been unable to prevent violence against ethnic Albanians.