Convoys of Kosovo Albanians bombed; 85 dead
Serbs blame NATO for attack
April 14, 1999
BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (CNN) -- NATO planes struck two convoys of ethnic Albanians trying to flee Kosovo on Wednesday, killing as many as 85 people, Yugoslav officials said.
Video shot by an Associated Press cameraman, in the presence of Serb officials who escorted him to the scene, showed bodies strewn along a rural road near what appeared to be a line of wagons pulled by tractors.
NATO said it had targeted military vehicles at another location and cited reports by refugees that Yugoslav airplanes were behind the civilian attack.
"NATO aircraft carried out controlled attacks on military vehicles near a highway bridge just east of Djakovica," NATO said in a statement. "The aircraft were fired on by anti-aircraft artillery and man portable surface-to-air missiles. The pilots state they attacked only military vehicles."
In Washington, Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon said he had unconfirmed reports from refugees that Yugoslav aircraft had been targeting civilian convoys. Bacon said NATO was investigating and could not yet verify those reports.
Pentagon sources said many refugees who arrived in Albania on Wednesday afternoon told U.N. workers that they had come under attack by Yugoslav aircraft on the road from Prizren to the Albanian town of Kukes.
However, Jeff Rowland of the U.N. World Food Program said the refugees he interviewed could not say whether the planes were NATO or Yugoslav, or from where they had come. Witnesses claimed two bombs made direct hits on the convoy, killing everyone inside some vehicles.
Yugoslav Foreign Ministry spokesman Nebojsa Vujovic rejected suggestions that Yugoslav forces were involved.
"It is completely and absolutely false. This didn't happen. What happened is that this is the worst illustration of what NATO aggression has brought to all the Balkan peoples," Vujovic told CNN.
No relief for homeless in Kosovo
Meanwhile, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said despite reports of displaced ethnic Albanians facing dire conditions in the mountains of Kosovo, U.N. relief workers cannot return to the province without the deployment of international forces.
"Security assurance is the basic condition under which we can go back," Sadaka Ogata said.
Ogata said that she could not estimate the number of displaced people still in the Kosovo province.
"I know one thing," she added. "Those who are displaced are in very difficult conditions, probably hiding in the mountains, and getting food must be difficult. I don't know how many days, how many weeks, they can last."
NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana said NATO was studying "all possible alternatives" to get aid quickly to Kosovars uprooted from their homes but remaining in Kosovo.
Clark has said that parachuting aid to displaced people from lumbering NATO transport planes would be an invitation to Serb forces to shoot them down.
British officials said Wednesday there were new reports of mass rapes of ethnic Albanians by Serb forces in the village of Djakovica.
British Defense Secretary George Robertson said two indicted war crimes suspects from the conflicts in Bosnia and Croatia were commanding and supplying units responsible for "massacring and raping" thousands of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.
He said Zeljko Raznjotovic, also known as Arkan, was scouting prisons for volunteers to join his unit in Kosovo.
Gen. Ratko Mladic, former commander of the Bosnian Serb army during the war in Bosnia, is commanding a "gang of paramilitaries" in Kosovo, Robertson said.
Meanwhile, the situation in refugee camps outside Kosovo's borders has improved, Ogata said.
She said more than 500,000 people have left Kosovo since the NATO airstrikes began March 24, with 314,000 in Albania, 116,000 in Macedonia and 67,000 in Montenegro.
In addition, as many as 2,000 more refugees arrived in Macedonia by train on Wednesday, with another 2,000 expected.
NATO forces were in the process of turning over control of the camps in Macedonia to the UNHCR, Ogata said. NATO troops set up tent camps in Macedonia at the start of the refugee crisis.
On Wednesday, it launched Operation Allied Harbor, with the aim of using troops to stabilize the refugee situation in Albania.
"We want to do for Albania what we've done for Macedonia," Shea said. "We want to provide essential relief, build tent camps, distribute supplies and provide security."
He said many refugees in the Albanian border town of Kukes still do not have shelter.
NATO has deployed 33 helicopters in the Albanian capital of Tirana to shuttle food and supplies to Kukes, Shea said.Correspondent Brent Sadler contributed to this report.
NATO: Strikes 'grinding down' Yugoslav military
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