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Wednesday 26 June 2019

Fury at Nato over 20 civilian deaths

ZORANA VUCICEVIC

FRENZIED peace efforts collided with reality on the ground yesterday as a small Yugoslav town counted corpses from a stray Nato bomb.Officials in Surdulica said they had pulled 20 bodies from the ruins of houses flattened by a Nato raid on Tuesday. Sixteen corpses were laid out in the local morgue as angry residents denounced Nato with shouts of ``Fascists!''

Nato said a laser-guided bomb had gone astray and hit a residential area during an attack on an army training centre.

Diplomatic efforts gathered pace, centred chiefly on Moscow, as Nato entered the sixth week of ferocious aerial bombardment aimed at halting repression of ethnic Albanians in Serbia's Kosovo province. But there was no sign of an early breakthrough.

Germany's defence minister and Greece's foreign minister led a procession of international leaders to Russia, a traditional Yugoslav ally, to engage Moscow more deeply in efforts to end the conflict.

In Surdulica, a huge crater was all that remained of one house, where locals said 16 people, mainly children and old people, had been sheltering in a basement when two Nato bombs hit on Tuesday. Roofs were damaged and windows shattered on nearby buildings.

`PRECISION'

Rescue workers combed the ruins, lit overnight with a spotlight - the only illumination in the little town apart from the hospital. Officials said phone lines and water were cut.

Nato spokesman Jamie Shea told journalists that the attack had destroyed an army training centre, which was considered by Nato planners to be an operational military target.

``During that attack, however, a precision guided weapon failed to guide accurately to its designated target and impacted some 200 to 300 metres (yards) beyond the barracks in a small residential area,'' Mr Shea said.

Britain said it regretted civilian casualties but it was not possible for NATO to eliminate such risks. The 20 deaths bring to nearly 100 the number of civilians killed, officially acknowledged by Nato.

Meanwhile, a senior Yugoslav official renewed the possibility of a negotiated settlement. Goran Matic, from the Yugoslav United Left party of President Slobodan Milosevic's wife, told the New York Times: ``I believe that this will be the week in which the basic outline of an agreement on Kosovo can be firmed up.''

The Yugoslav news agency Tanjug said Nato planes again hit the already-devastated oil refinery in the northern city of Novi Sad yesterday.

A worsening refugee crisis underlined the urgency of Nato's attempt to secure autonomy and armed protection for Kosovo's majority ethnic Albanians.

A new busload of refugees arrived at the main Blace border crossing into Macedonia, where 3,500 refugees spent the night crammed into a squalid holding camp.

In Geneva, the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, said overcrowding in camps had become so extreme that refugees were ``on the verge of rioting''.

Late on Tuesday a new influx of several thousand refugees, overwhelmingly women and children, poured past the Albanian border post at Morinat.

Many of them said security forces had pulled out their menfolk near the village of Mej.

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