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Yugoslavia: NATO Regrets Incident, But Says Resolve Unshaken

Brussels, 15 April 1999 (RFE/RL) - NATO has expressed "deep regret" for yesterday's civilian deaths as a result of NATO bombing in Kosovo. At the same time, the alliance says the "tragic" accident will not be allowed to weaken its resolve. At a press conference in Brussels today, NATO spokesman Jamie Shea gave some details of the incident, which occurred at mid-afternoon yesterday near the village of Djakovica in western Kosovo. He said that Yugoslav special forces had been carrying out ethnic cleansing operations in the area. He said the pilot of a NATO plane saw villages burning. The pilot reported what he believed to be military vehicles in a convoy. He made several passes to be certain before attacking the convoy, destroying the lead vehicle.

Shea gave no estimate of casualties. The Yugoslav authorities say more than 60 people died, but that has not been independently confirmed. Belgrade also says two convoys were involved in the incident, not one. Journalists in Brussels asked NATO about the possibility of a second convoy being hit. Military spokesman Brigadier General Guiseppe Marani confirmed that a second convoy had been hit but said it was not related to the incident in question.

In Washington, a U.S. spokesman also expressed regret about the civilian loss of life but said NATO operations in Yugoslavia must continue.

Meanwhile, about 1,000 displaced ethnic Albanians fleeing Kosovo are being kept waiting at the Macedonian border today by Macedonian police until shelter is found. The deportees spent the night in the neutral zone at Jazince, some 60 kilometers northwest of the capital, Skopje. Police had let some 300 to 400 ethnic Albanians into the country before closing the border.

The U.N. says 534,000 Kosovars have now been deported and that thousands more are displaced inside Kosovo.