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Serbs Shell Albanian Border

April 15, 1999

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (AP) _ A day after its bombs hit a convoy of refugees in Kosovo, NATO pressed ahead with its air campaign Thursday, hitting military barracks, TV transmitters and bridges throughout Yugoslavia.

NATO expressed deep regret over the ``tragic accident,″ saying its planes had been targeting Serb forces when they struck a column of ethnic Albanians fleeing the province. The bombing Wednesday left refugees’ bodies dismembered and burned on a Kosovo road.

Serb forces, meanwhile, lobbed artillery shells over the border into northern Albania in a running battle with the rebel Kosovo Liberation Army. International observers said Thursday that five KLA fighters had been killed in the past 24 hours.

Some mortars landed close to Albania’s border checkpoint at Morini, where international aid workers were operating and refugees were passing through, said monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Thousands of ethnic Albanians crossed over into Macedonia and Albania on Thursday, fleeing what they described as a methodical Serb push to empty towns and villages in Kosovo.

Yugoslavia renewed its denunciations of the attack on the convoy. ``This is the worst picture of a humanitarian catastrophe brought on by the NATO bombings,″ Foreign Ministry spokesman Nebojsa Vujovic said.

Vojislav Seselj, a Serbian deputy prime minister, accused NATO of killing civilians on purpose. He said NATO knew it could ``accomplish nothing by striking military targets″ and was therefore ``taking revenge by bombing civilians.″

``The aggressor who behaves in this way has lost all military compass,″ he said.

In Djakovica (jah-koh-VEET-sah), the main town nearest the attack, an investigative judge said 69 bodies, mostly women, children and elderly, had been identified so far.

But there were additional charred bodies and body parts, making a precise body count difficult, said the judge, Milenko Momcilovic.

Sixteen-year-old Teuta Sulja told reporters on an official Yugoslav-organized trip to the strike site that seven people were killed on the flatbed trailer she was riding on.

``I lost an uncle and a father and another relative,″ she said. Blood soaked through a bandage on her right leg.

Along the road near Zreze, eight miles south of Prizren, reporters saw badly burned bodies and body parts, a severed head in a field and crushed tractors.

Surgeon Alji Toljaj said the local Djakovica hospital performed six amputations overnight and most of the wounded were suffering from burns or blast injuries. The hospital said it treated 43 people, two of whom died.

At its headquarters in Belgium, NATO said it ``deeply regrets the loss of life.″ Spokesman Jamie Shea said the alliance had taken ``every possible precaution″ to avoid hurting civilians.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair said ultimate responsibility lay with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, because his campaign of ``ethnic cleansing″ against Kosovo’s Albanians had precipitated the attack.

``Of course we regret these things deeply when they happen. But that should not make us flinch from placing responsibility for this conflict squarely on the shoulders of ... Milosevic,″ Blair said.

Milosevic launched a crackdown on ethnic Albanians separatists 14 months ago in Kosovo, a province in Serbia, the main republic in Yugoslavia, a campaign that forced tens of thousands from their homes. NATO allies began bombing Yugoslavia on March 24 after he refused to sign a peace accord for the province.

The goal of the air operation is to cripple Serbia’s ability to crack down on the ethnic Albanians.

The presence on Kosovo’s roads of huge refugee columns like the one hit Wednesday could signal a final push by Serb forces to rid the province of its ethnic Albanian majority.

Along the tense Albania-Yugoslav border, meanwhile, international observers reported a new round of Serb shelling, as well as machine gun and mortar fire near the Albanian border hamlets Padesh and Kamenica.

Kamenica briefly fell into Serb hands Tuesday when light infantrymen pushed across the border into Albania.

In the latest wave of attacks by allied planes, NATO targeted military installations including barracks in the suburbs of Belgrade, along with transmitters carrying state-run TV.

As night fell Thursday, air raid sirens sounded in Belgrade and a dozen loud explosions were heard just outside Podgorica, the capital of Montenegro, Yugoslavia’s smaller republic. A large black cloud was visible near the military airfield and airport just outside the city.

In other developments Thursday:

_Witnesses said a Yugoslav navy ship anchored off Montenegro had fired three missiles, apparently trying to hit NATO jets.

_The state-run Tanjug news agency said 10 towns or their surroundings were targeted by NATO early Thursday. New NATO strikes were also reported in Kosovo, including three strong detonations just outside the provincial capital, Pristina, reported by Tanjug.

_NATO strikes also knocked out a major railway bridge over the Lim River and hit another bridge over the Ibar River valley, both south of Belgrade.

_Two missiles targeted the village of Lukare, northeast of Pristina, Tanjug said. The airport at Slatina, pounded by a wave of strikes all week, was hit again, it said.

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