the free press

Carl Remick cremick at
Wed Apr 14 14:08:37 PDT 1999

> Ah, our free press! I just signed onto the MSNBC website for
> the latest war
> news, and was greeted by a big headline saying "Peace plan
> hits hurdles:
> objections raised to cease-fire; NATO denies it hit refugee
> convoy."

Here's the latest from the NY Times website on that convoy:

NATO Denies Serb Charge That Jets Attacked Refugees

>From Combined Wire Services

As NATO warplanes hammered Serb targets in Kosovo today, Yugoslavia said one of the strikes hit a convoy of ethnic Albanian refugees under Serb police escort, killing at least 64 and wounding 20.

NATO confirmed its aircraft carried out controlled attacks on military vehicles.

``The aircraft was fired on by anti-aircraft artillery and a manned portable surface-to-air missile. The pilots state they attacked only military vehicles,'' NATO said in a statement. ``We cannot confirm press reports alleging that these attacks may have caused civilian casualties.''

Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon said NATO was still investigating but there was no indication its planes hit civilians.

Bacon said U.S. Army Gen. Wesley Clark, one of NATO's top commanders, told him in a telephone conversation that he had received ``verbal reports of the possibility'' that after military vehicles in the refugee convoy were hit, ``military people got out and ... began to attack civilians in the middle of the convoy.''

``We don't know what the full facts are,'' Bacon said.

Earlier, Bacon said U.N. relief workers had reported to NATO that refugees entering Albania had claimed refugee convoys were being attacked by Yugoslav planes and helicopters.

Video taken under Serb control showed smashed bodies scattered along a roadway, damaged farm vehicles and bombed-out farm buildings nearby. People in rough peasant clothing, some with blood streaming down their faces, loaded bodies of the dead and wounded into trunks of cars or wheelbarrows to transport them.

Old men and women wept by the roadside. A young boy sat on a trailer rig, sobbing.

The Serb-run Media Center in the Kosovo capital, Pristina, said two separate refugee convoys were bombed, most of them made up of women, children and elderly ethnic Albanians who were being escorted by Serbian police.

>From just across the Albanian border at Tropoja, 12 miles away, enormous
booms were heard.

Yugoslav Foreign Ministry spokesman Nebojsa Vujevic, who along with the media center reported a figure of 64 dead, denounced the strike as a ``crime against humanity.''

``The bodies are literally littered on the highway,'' he said.

While there was no independent confirmation, if the account were true, it would mark by far the largest single loss of civilian life reported during the 3-week-old NATO bombing campaign.

In Belgium, NATO military spokesman Jamie Shea, asked about the report, said: ``I don't have, by any means, all of the details.

``All I have been told by the operational commanders is that military vehicles were a target on that road this afternoon,'' Shea said.

``We are processing the battle damage assessment in order to know more. As soon as we have more information, I will provide it to you.''

NATO has said repeatedly it held Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic responsible for the safety of ethnic Albanians driven from their homes in Kosovo but unable to leave the province. Estimates have put the number of displaced within Kosovo in the hundreds of thousands.

The Serb Media Center said the first refugee column made up of more than 1,000 people on tractors, trailers, in private cars or on foot, was hit -- twice -- near the villages of Madanaj and Meja, adjacent to Djakovica.

The second convoy of refugees was hit on the road between Prizren and Djakovica, the Media Center said. It said three policemen escorting the convoy were also injured.

On the Albanian side of the border, an aid worker said he had spoken to refugees who witnessed the attack and could not say whether the aircraft were NATO planes.

According to Jeff Rowand of the World Food Program, refugees crossing the Albanian border said they saw three aircraft drop three bombs that hit two tractors, killing many people. Other refugees said they saw dead, mutilated bodies by the road, including those of women and children, Rowand said.

During the three weeks of allied air raids, several military targets have been hit in Djakovica, but so too was part of Djakovica's old town, in what appeared to be stray strikes.

A half-million Kosovar Albanians have fled or been driven out of the province since last month, the greatest mass displacement in Europe since World War II. More than 2,000 people have died in Kosovo since Milosevic cracked down on ethnic Albanians in February 1998.

At the Yugoslav-Macedonian border, another group of arrivals -- an estimated 2,000 people -- crossed over today, and more flooded into Albania as well.

In other developments today:

--On Albania's border with Yugoslavia, Serb forces shelled a deserted Albanian village they had briefly seized a day earlier, international observers said.

The fresh round of border shelling began at 9 a.m. near the village of Padesh, witnesses said. One shell hit Kamenica, the hamlet briefly occupied by Serb forces who pushed across the frontier a day earlier and then withdrew after a short skirmish with Albanian troops.

Smoke could be seen rising from Kamenica -- whose residents had fled earlier -- but no new Serb incursion was seen or reported.

Tensions have risen sharply in recent weeks along the Yugoslav-Albania frontier, long the scene of fighting between Serb troops and the rebel Kosovo Liberation Army. Tuesday's Serb incursion -- denied by Yugoslavia -- drew a warning from Washington to Milosevic not to widen the Kosovo conflict.

--In Belgrade, a rare daytime air-raid alert sounded at mid-morning while jets were heard flying overhead. Loud sonic booms echoed through the city center. Daytime alerts also briefly sounded in the Montenegrin capital of Podgorica and cities including Novi Sad, Serbia's second-largest.

--In overnight airstrikes, NATO hit a hydroelectric power plant and a major food-processing factory early today.

The action on the ground came amid a flurry of diplomatic consultations, including a German peace initiative that would provide for a 24-hour suspension of allied airstrikes if Milosevic began withdrawing his forces from Kosovo.

NATO welcomed the German-drafted peace plan as a ``food-for-thought paper'' but said it would not immediately endorse it because it opens the way to a suspension of airstrikes.

Alliance officials have been stressing how successful the air campaign is in destroying Milosevic's war machine, despite bad weather that has hampered airstrikes and at least two missiles that accidentally struck a passenger train, killing 10 people, and civilian sites.

The three-stage German plan called for a heavily armed U.N. military force to move in as Yugoslav forces withdraw, a return of Kosovo refugees, and for Kosovo to be put under U.N. administration until a permanent peace settlement is agreed.

In a sign NATO raids were starting to affect basic supplies, the first known report of food rationing surfaced since the allied air campaign started.

A U.N. agency warned today that Kosovo faces a long-term food shortage because most fields have been destroyed, crops have not been harvested, and a huge number of livestock have died due to the violence and abandonment.

In the southeastern Serb city of Pirot, authorities began distributing coupons for food staples, the Yugoslav state news agency Tanjug reported today. Fuel has been rationed nationwide since shortly after the strikes began.

[end of text]

Carl Remick

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