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NATO Strikes After Convoy Accident

April 16, 1999

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (AP) _ NATO pounded military targets in the Yugoslav republic of Montenegro and hit key sites around the Yugoslav capital Belgrade today, while refugees arriving from Kosovo reported an intensified push by Serb forces to empty whole communities of ethnic Albanians.

With no letup in its air campaign against Yugoslavia, NATO jets and missiles hit a military airfield and airport just outside Podgorica, the Montenegrin capital, early today.

Overnight airstrikes went on into the daylight hours in Kosovo, where the state-run Tanjug news agency reported strong blasts in and around the provincial capital of Pristina at midmorning.

In Washington, Pentagon leaders expressed regret Thursday that civilians were killed in a NATO attack on an ethnic Albanian refugee caravan in southern Kosovo a day earlier. Yugoslav authorities said the bombing left 75 dead and dozens of others wounded.

Thousands of ethnic Albanians have been crossing over into Macedonia and Albania in what observers believe may be a final push by Yugoslav forces to rid Kosovo of its ethnic Albanian population. Up to 5,000 refugees poured across Macedonia’s three border posts overnight, Francois Zen-Ruffinen, spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross, said today.

Refugees say Serb forces have shelled and shot at some of them as they made their way toward the borders, and shelling was heard on the Serb side of Macedonia’s Jacinze crossing overnight.

The Red Cross, meanwhile, reported an envoy was in Belgrade to discuss issues including three American soldiers being held by Yugoslavia. Spokesman Nick Sommer in Geneva cautioned against expectations of any breakthrough regarding the servicemen, who were captured March 31 while on reconnaissance along the Macedonian border.

In Montenegro, alliance warplanes struck at an underground military base and targeted a port where Yugoslav navy ships was anchored, local media reported. According to witnesses, the Yugoslav navy launched missiles at NATO jets.

State-run Serbian TV said Yugoslav air defense had shot down a NATO aircraft over Montenegro, but offered no footage or photos to back up the claim. NATO had no immediate comment.

Until the latest raids in Montenegro, NATO had focused attacks on Serbia, the larger, main Yugoslav republic. Montenegro’s vice premier, Dragisa Burzan, speaking to state television, accused Belgrade of trying to draw NATO attacks against Serbs targets in his pro-Western republic.

In Belgrade, air-raid sirens sounded after dark and hours later, state-run media said the capital’s main airport had been targeted. The southern Belgrade district of Rakovica was hit for the second consecutive night. Planes were heard over the capital, as well as anti-aircraft fire.

Across the Danube, the country’s largest refinery complex at Pancevo was hit three times _ once at the oil refinery and twice at a chemical plant, Tanjug news agency said. Seventeen people were injured, it said.

Strikes at either end of a bridge over the Danube southeast of the capital left the structure impassable. Serb TV showed pictures of the wrecked, nearly mile-long span. Danube bridges have been key targets during the air campaign.

NATO missiles also hit the refinery in Serbia’s second-largest city, Novi Sad, setting it ablaze, Tanjug reported. A military barracks in the area was also hit, damaging civilian buildings in the surrounding area, it said.

Subotica, near the border with Hungary, was targeted for the first time late Thursday. The city’s mayor, Jozef Kasa, told Beta two missiles exploded between two barracks in a densely populated area, damaging civilian houses and knocking out power, and Serb TV showed pictures of people with faces cut by flying glass.

A settlement area of refugees from the wars in Bosnia and Croatia was hit early today in Paracin in central Serbia, Tanjug said, but no injuries were reported.

Tanjug reported ``significant″ damage in civilian areas when more than 10 missiles fell on the village of Mrsac, 6 miles west of the central Serbian town of Kraljevo. But it did not immediately report any casualties.

On Thursday, Yugoslavia again denounced the attack on the refugee convoy. ``This is the worst picture of a humanitarian catastrophe brought on by the NATO bombings,″ Yugoslav Foreign Ministry spokesman Nebojsa Vujovic said.

At NATO headquarters in Belgium, officials acknowledged mistakenly bombing the convoy and said it ``deeply regrets the loss of life.″

Washington also expressed regret at the mistake, but said the blame lay ultimately with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, for forcing the refugees from their homes in the first place.

Milosevic launched a crackdown on ethnic Albanians separatists 14 months ago in Kosovo, a province in Serbia. NATO allies began bombing Yugoslavia on March 24 after he refused to sign a peace accord for the majority ethnic Albanian province.

In Djakovica, the main town near the site of NATO’s accidental attack, investigative judge Milenko Momcilovic said 69 bodies, mostly women, children and elderly, had been identified Thursday. Additional charred bodies and body parts found at the scene made a precise count difficult, he said.

The death toll could not be independently confirmed.

Surgeons at the local hospital said they performed six amputations overnight, and treated 43 people, two of whom died.

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.

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

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