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Yugoslavia: Serb-TV Stages Shoot Down

Prague, 30 March 1999 (RFE/RL) -- A leading British military analyst says state-controlled television in Serbia appears to have faked the shoot down of a NATO aircraft overnight.

Serbian television is showing video images today of what it claims is a NATO jet exploding in midair after being hit by anti-aircraft artillery in Montenegro. The state-controlled channel also showed images of fighter jet parts in the daylight strew across the ground in a hilly, forested area.

The report claimed that the plane came down near the town of Virpazar, 20 kms south of the Montenegrin capital Podgorica.

NATO officials, including spokesman General Michael Kaemmerer, today said the Serbian television report is wrong. They say all NATO planes returned safely to their bases after missions over Yugoslavia.

Paul Beaver, a military analyst with the London-based journal Jane's Defense Weekly, said a close study of the Serb TV images suggests that the bright mid-air flash is actually a ground fired flare.

Beaver told Britain's privately-owned Sky-TV that the video had been carefully edited to cut out the launch of the flare. But he noted that a second ground-fired flare can be seen with a trajectory path matching that of the initial flash.

Beaver also said that the plane parts shown on the ground appeared to be from the U.S. F-117 stealth fighter plane that NATO officials confirmed had crashed west of Belgrade on Saturday. He noted that none of those parts had been shown previously on Serbian television.

Beaver said NATO has much to lose by issuing false denials about lost aircraft. He said false reports about western casualties are inevitably discovered by the independent media. He said false denials are much more damaging to Western public opinion in the long run than openly admitting lost aircraft.

Belgrade has expelled most western journalists from Yugoslavia, making it difficult to get independent confirmation of reports there.

Yugoslavia has claimed it has downed seven NATO planes and three helicopters since NATO air strikes began last Wednesday. NATO has said that only the one F-117 that has been lost.