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Yugoslavia: U.S. Soldiers Freed; 2 Jets Crash; Kosovo Bus Bombed

Belgrade, 2 May 1999 (RFE/RL) - Three U.S. soldiers held captive by Yugoslavia for more than a month were set free and left the country this morning in the company of the man who won their freedom -- U.S. civil rights leader Jesse Jackson. After 32 days of captivity, the three walked across the border into Croatia, from where they were taken to Zagreb airport to board a plane bound for a U.S. airbase in Germany. In military action over Yugoslavia overnight, two NATO jets crashed, one 80 kilometers from Belgrade and the other into the Adriatic Sea. Both pilots were rescued. NATO has admitted that it accidentally bombed a bus in Kosovo, possibly killing 60. United Nations officials said today that about 11,000 refugees have crossed into Albania at the Morina border post since Friday evening. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the new arrivals brought to 23,000 the number of displaced persons who have entered through Morina since Thursday.

The freed U.S. soldiers -- Staff Sergeant Christopher Stone, Specialist Corporal Steven Gonzalez, and Staff Sergeant Andrew Ramirez -- were captured while patrolling the border between Macedonia and Serbia.

NATO maintains they were snatched on Macedonian soil. In Brussels, NATO spokesman Jamie Shea said the alliance was glad they had been released, but stressed they should have never been taken prisoner in the first place.

CNN television reported that Jackson, who negotiated the release with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, is also carrying a letter with peace proposals from Milosevic to U.S. President Bill Clinton.

In military action over Yugoslavia overnight, a NATO F-16 combat jet crashed some 80 kilometers from Belgrade during the 39th straight night of NATO airstrikes. NATO says the pilot was rescued. NATO also lost a second plane when a warplane crashed into the Adriatic Sea yesterday while attempting to land on an aircraft carrier. Its pilot was also rescued.

In other military developments, NATO admitted today that it accidentally bombed a bus on a bridge north of the Kosovo capital Pristina. Yugoslav media said up to 60 people were killed, but NATO could not confirm civilian casualties.

Meanwhile, Russian President Boris Yeltsin today discussed with top aides Russia's efforts to defuse the Kosovo crisis, but no details of the talks have yet been made public.

UNHCR spokesman Ray Wilkinson said some 4,380 refugees were transported yesterday and today from the northern Albanian town of Kukes to the western town of Shkodra, Albania's second city on the border with Montenegro.

From there, they are to board trains bound for other regions of Albania, which has been the hardest hit by the Balkans refugee crisis.

Wilkinson says more than 100,000 ethnic Albanians from Kosovo have found sanctuary in Kukes where overcrowded tent camps are facing water shortages.