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World - Europe

NATO: Train attack 'unfortunate' but unavoidable

The remains of the passenger train

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NATO shows video from the Monday attack in which missiles hit a civilian train in Yugoslavia (April 13)
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Hear NATO military officials describe NATO airstrikes over Yugoslavia

April 13, 1999
Web posted at: 3:56 p.m. EDT (1956 GMT)

BRUSSELS, Belgium (CNN) -- The NATO pilot who bombed a rail bridge in southern Serbia was unable to see a passenger train on the bridge until the instant before his missile struck, NATO's top general said Tuesday.

The Monday attack left at least 10 dead aboard the train and injured another 16, Yugoslav authorities said.

The pilot was using a remotely targeted missile he fired from several miles away, said Gen. Wesley Clark, NATO's supreme commander in Europe. He spoke to reporters in Brussels on Tuesday, the 21st day of the NATO air war against Yugoslavia.

Clark said the pilot was steering the missile from the cockpit of his plane when, "all of a sudden, at the very last instant, he caught a flash of movement."

At that point the pilot could not steer the bomb away from the train, he said. "It was locked, it was going to the target and it was an unfortunate incident we all regret," Clark said.

The pilot fired a second missile in an attempt to hit the opposite end of the bridge, Clark said. But by "an uncanny accident," the train had slid forward, moved across the bridge and ended up in the missile's path.

"In both cases there was an effort made to avoid collateral damage," Clark said. "We're sorry for it, because we are doing our absolute best to avoid collateral damage."

Clark showed reporters a videotape of the attack, in which the train darts into view on the bridge barely a second before the missile's impact.

Milisav Paic, a Yugoslav Foreign Ministry official in Belgrade, called Monday's deaths "a war crime done against innocent civilians."

NATO pilots have attacked bridges as part of the alliance's effort to disrupt supply lines to Yugoslav forces. The air campaign continued Tuesday, with allied commanders tripling the number of planes flying bombing missions over Yugoslavia.

Airstrikes concentrated on cutting off the flow of fuel to the Yugoslav army in Kosovo. Clark said the missions have damaged or destroyed about 70 percent of the country's petroleum storage capacity.

With fuel stocks depleted, commanders of the roughly 23 battalions in Kosovo are being told to avoid moving their troops, he said.

"He's taking fuel away from civilian consumption and trying to hoard it for military use," Clark said.

Clark said additional measures -- "diplomatic and otherwise" -- would be in place soon to further shrink the Yugoslav army's fuel supply.

Clark also said he would ask for hundreds of new planes from NATO nations, including about 300 from the United States. The new warplanes will bring the number of NATO aircraft in the Balkan campaign to nearly 1,000.

The allied air war against Yugoslavia is aimed at forcing Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to accept a peace agreement for Kosovo, a Serbian province.

"We are showing that the longer we go on, the stronger become our attacks and the weaker becomes Milosevic's war machine," British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said Tuesday.

Cook said Yugoslavia's petroleum supply is a "choke point" that NATO is attacking in order to hinder Serb-led Yugoslav troops and special police forces. The alliance says those forces have conducted a campaign against ethnic Albanian civilians in Kosovo.

Cook described that offensive as "a revival of fascism" that modern Europe could not tolerate.

"The Serb army now knows it has no real protection against our air attacks, and spends most of its time hiding and worrying," he said. "They know that with every passing day, the balance turns against them."

Attacks scattered across Serbia

An oil refinery in Pancevo goes up in flames 

Serb TV also reported attacks against:

  • Oil refineries in Pancevo and Novi Sad, both hit in other recent attacks.
  • A fuel depot east of Sambor, farther north of Belgrade.
  • A factory in the central Serbian town of Cacak, south of Belgrade.
  • Two bridges, one described as old, the other as new, in Krusevac.

Gen. Charles Guthrie, the British chief of staff, said the air campaign is taking a toll on Yugoslav army morale.

"Our attacks are having a noticeable and destructive effect, and units are becoming increasingly isolated," Guthrie said.

Albright, Ivanov meet

Meanwhile, the alliance was still pursuing diplomacy in hopes of finding a way to end the crisis in Kosovo, which has left nearly a million people displaced.

The United States and Russia, trying to resolve their differences on the matter, announced general agreement on basic principles Tuesday. But they remained at odds on key issues, including an international peacekeeping force for Kosovo.

U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said her three-hour meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov was "an honest discussion."

Tuesday's talks came one day after NATO ministers considered having Russian and other European troops join in enforcing a settlement in the province if Yugoslavia accepts peace terms.

Ivanov said Yugoslavia must approve any international peacekeeping force sent to Kosovo and he insisted airstrikes must stop before there could be a political settlement.

"The sooner NATO ceases airstrikes, the easier it will be to find a settlement," Ivanov said at a joint news conference after the talks in Oslo, Norway.

Albright said the two sides agreed, at least in principle, that there must be an end to repression, a pullout of Serb troops and police from Kosovo and a return of refugees to their homes.

NATO triples airstrikes against Yugoslavia
April 13, 1999
NATO hits new targets as U.S. increases fire power
April 13, 1999
Yugoslav train hit during NATO strike; 10 dead
April 12, 1999
Refugees seek peace, security outside Balkans
April 12, 1999
On Orthodox Easter, religious leaders pray for peace, goodwill
April 11, 1999
Yeltsin warns of posslible world war over Kosovo
April 10, 1999
Refugee situation improves; U.S. says some used as shields
April 10, 1999

Extensive list of Kosovo-related sites
  • Kosovo

  • Federal Republic of Yugoslavia official site
      • Kesovo and Metohija facts
  • Serbia Ministry of Information
  • Serbia Now! News

  • Kosova Crisis Center
  • Kosova Liberation Peace Movement
  • Kosovo - from

  • NATO official site
  • BosniaLINK - U.S. Dept. of Defense
  • U.S. Navy images from Operation Allied Force
  • U.K. Ministry of Defence - Kosovo news
  • U.K. Royal Air Force - Kosovo news
  • Jane's Defence - Kosovo Crisis

  • Mercy International USA
  • Donations for Kosovo Refugees
  • International Rescue Committee
  • Mercy International USA
  • Unicef USA
  • Doctors Without Borders
  • World Vision
  • CARE: The Kosovo Crisis
  • InterAction
  • International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies
  • International Committee of the Red Cross
  • Disaster Relief from
  • Catholic Relief Services
  • Kosovo Relief
  • ReliefWeb: Home page

  • Independent Yugoslav radio stations B92
  • Institute for War and Peace Reporting
  • United States Information Agency - Kosovo Crisis

  • Prayers for peace
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