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NATO Probes Strike on Civilians

May 15, 1999

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (AP) _ NATO acknowledged today its jets struck a village where dozens of ethnic Albanian refugees were reported killed but said it was going after ``military positions″ there.

Yugoslav media reported Friday that 84 people were killed and 56 injured after NATO jets attacked Korisa, where 500 ethnic Albanians were spending the night. Survivors said they had spent weeks in a nearby forest hiding from Serb forces before stopping in the village.

The 19-nation alliance issued a statement today after an overnight review describing the village as ``a legitimate military target.″

``NATO identified Korisa as a military camp and command post,″ the alliance said. ``Military equipment including an armored personnel carrier and more than 10 pieces of artillery were observed at this location. The aircraft observed dug-in military positions at the target before executing the attack.″

The statement said NATO could not confirm the casualty figures given by the Serb authorities, nor the reasons why civilians were at the location at the time of the attack.

``NATO deeply regrets accidental civilian casualties that were caused by this attack,″ it said.

NATO spokesman Jamie Shea, talking to the British Broadcasting Corp., suggested that the refugees may have been used as human shields to protect military equipment deployed in the village.

``One of the problems we have is that we are up against an adversary who is without any scruples when it comes to mixing his armed forces in with internally displaced persons ... and even ... using these as human shields on bridges,″ Shea said.

``But we have to attack those forces because otherwise we cannot stop the ethnic cleansing,″ he added.

Milisav Paic, a spokesman for the Yugoslav foreign ministry, dismissed claims that Serbs were using refugees as human shields.

``There is no doubt it was NATO who carried out the raids against civilians and they cannot just simply try to get rid of any responsibility,″ he said.

Reporters taken to Korisa, near Prizren in southern Kosovo, saw dozens of bodies. Tractors lay charred and wrecked, some still burning hours after the attack. Two craters, apparently caused by bombs, were visible on the roadside.

Amid wrecked buildings and smoldering tractors, a group of 50 crying women and children huddled in the cellar of a village home, trying to decide what to do next.

``I don’t know the exact number (killed). Many. Everyone was sleeping,″ said one dazed survivor, Feriz Emini.

On April 14, 75 refugees were killed when NATO mistakenly attacked a convoy near Djakovica. NATO admits other accidental strikes against a residential neighborhood in Nis; a civilian bus on a bridge in Kosovo; a passenger train; a village in southern Serbia; and most notably the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade.

At the U.N. headquarters in New York, the Security Council adopted a statement which expresses the council’s ``profound regrets over the bombing and deep sorrow for the loss of lives, injuries and property damage caused by the bombing.″

An agreement on the statement’s wording was reached only after hours of debate, which revealed deep divisions between NATO countries and Russia and China.

Nevertheless, NATO kept up its offensive today, striking targets across Kosovo in what state-run media called ``ceaseless″ raids.

NATO said today it hit a ``full range″ of Serbian ground forces, both in Kosovo and in Serbia. Overnight, NATO aircraft flew 592 sorties with more than half the strikes aimed at the Yugoslav air defense system, a NATO statement said.

Other targets included tanks, armored vehicles, artillery pieces, radars, airfields, bridges, munition and petroleum storage sites as well as army troops.

The state-run Tanjug news agency reported that NATO forces struck unidentified targets near Prizren, Djakovica and Lipljan on Friday night. It also said NATO jets were active in the skies over the provincial capital, Pristina.

NATO wants the total withdrawal of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic’s forces from Kosovo, a province of Yugoslavia’s Serb republic, and the return of the refugees, as well as the deployment of an international peacekeeping force.

About 780,000 ethnic Albanians have left Kosovo, which had a prewar population of 2 million, since NATO bombings aimed at forcing Milosevic to accept a Western-dictated peace plan began March 24.

NATO reported its heaviest bombing of the seven-week air campaign against Yugoslavia from Thursday night to Friday morning. The alliance said it concentrated attacks against the 40,000 Serb troops and special police in Kosovo, hitting heavy armor and arms supplies hidden in tunnels. Bombing was particularly intense around Prizren.

During daylight attacks, NATO warplanes roared over Kosovo and other parts of Serbia, hitting two military barracks, state-controlled media reported.

At Kargujevac, where the barracks is in the middle of the central Serbian city, two missiles slammed into the building, detonating huge explosions and sending palls of smoke across the city, the private news agency Beta reported. Missiles also struck five bridges in Kosovo.

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