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World - Europe

NATO says 'human shields' account for bombing deaths

An Albanian man skirmishes with Serb forces inside Albania

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May 18, 1999
Web posted at: 2:49 a.m. EDT (0649 GMT)

In this story:

Hundreds herded to target areas

New witness accounts

Clashes spill over into Albania

U.N. team begins Yugoslav mission


BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (CNN) -- NATO launched its 55th day of airstrikes against Yugoslavia on Monday and accused President Slobodan Milosevic of the widespread use of civilians as "human shields" around targets in Kosovo.

Yugoslav TV reported that NATO strikes destroyed bridges in the villages of Drvenikova and Biljanovac near the central Serbian town of Kraljevo and a military airport in Batajnica, about 15 miles south of Belgrade.

Yugoslav TV also reported that a highway bridge on the main road from the capital of Belgrade to the southeastern city of Nis was destroyed on Monday night. The city of Nis and the towns of Vranje and Vladicin also were attacked, Yugoslav TV said.

Another strike targeted the mountain of Fruska Gora and the nearby town of Rakovac five miles away from Novi Sad, Yugoslav TV said. NATO planes have also targeted Donji Sinkovci, near the southeastern town of Leskovac. TV reported a lot of damage, but no casualties.

The air campaign took a decided downturn Monday -- down from around 600 sorties daily to just 343. NATO said bad weather forced the cancellation of most flights, but Yugoslavia said heavy anti-aircraft fire had turned away the NATO planes

Also Monday, both NATO and U.S. officials relayed witness reports that Yugoslav forces have used civilians -- refugees and even Serbs -- as human shields against NATO bombing.

Hundreds reportedly herded to target areas

Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon estimated that one-third to one-half of all civilians killed in the NATO air campaign may have been deliberately placed around bombing targets.

He said such incidents stand as evidence of the "depravity of Milosevic."

"What kind of person would use humans as shields?" Bacon asked.

Bacon cited a German radio interview with a survivor of last week's NATO attack on the Kosovo town of Korisa, which killed as many as 87 civilians.

"They were, in fact, herded into an area and were, in fact, told before the event took place, 'Now you're going to see what a NATO bombing strike is like,'" Bacon said.

NATO spokesman Jamie Shea told reporters in Brussels on Monday that the organization had documented dozens of reports of Kosovar Albanians being used as human shields.

New witness accounts

An Albanian man protests as a countryman fires an automatic weapon close to his ear  

Shea mentioned three new reports:

  • In mid-April, 500 young Albanians in the town of Presevo "were pressed into military service, forced to wear the uniform of the Yugoslav army and told they would be used as human shields and I quote, 'as soon as a NATO troop offensive began.'"
  • In late March, 10,000 residents from the town of Cirez were "forced to serve as human shields in the munitions factory at Srbica."
  • On April 6, Serb police rounded up 4,000 people in Doganovic and "forced them to be human shields in a quarry."

Clashes spill over into Albania

The Yugoslav army's pursuit of Kosovo Liberation Army rebels has spilled into northern Albania, where villagers and border guards routinely trade fire with the more experienced Serb forces.

"Yugoslav forces are in our territory about 400 meters. They made positions there and are shooting in our villages and at our police," said Major Seslim Zaneli of the Albanian border police.

The KLA claim to have captured 100 square kilometers (39 square miles) of territory in Kosovo.

The adjoining area in northeastern Albania has served as supply route and is home to several KLA bases.

The Albanian army has recently joined the fray, but from a distance. Albanian tanks moved in behind villagers and border guards and fired several rounds over their heads toward the opposing Serbs.

"When it has been needed, we have reacted and we will react again in the future," Albanian Deputy Prime Minister Ilir Meta told CNN.

But most of the fighting along the frontier has fallen on the shoulders of Albanian villagers, who have proved no match for the experienced Serb Army.

Hundreds gathered in the village of Bajum Curee on Monday to mourn two of the four residents killed in the border skirmish.

"This is in the hands of the big powers ... they are the ones provoking the fight. The Serbs want to fight ... we don't want to fight," said Kadre Sallahi, who lives in the village.

U.N. team begins Yugoslav mission

A U.N. exploratory mission, the first of its kind since NATO began its bombing campaign in Yugoslavia, was in Belgrade on Monday to assess humanitarian needs throughout the embattled country.

Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic has reportedly agreed to meet with the 15-member team before it leaves the capital.

The delegation, which arrived Sunday, is scheduled to spend 10 days getting a firsthand look at the situation in Yugoslavia -- including Kosovo.

"We are worried about the hundreds of thousands that are said to be on the move in that province," team leader Sergio Vieira de Mello said Sunday. "It's the first time we are able to embark in this kind of way, and right in the middle of a war. We are determined to do as professional a job as possible."

Yugoslavia charges that the bombing itself has forced the Kosovars to flee, while NATO says that the Serbs have engaged in systematic "ethnic cleansing" of the region.

On Monday, Serb troops kept some 2,000 ethnic Albanians from disembarking from a train at the Macedonian border. An elderly man who was allowed to get off the train and cross into Macedonia told authorities he had seen the train turn around and head back into Kosovo.

"We are not sure why the Serbs are not allowing people off," said Ron Redmond, a spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. "They can turn this off and on like a tap."

Correspondents Rusty Dornin, Matthew Chance and Tom Mintier contributed to this report.

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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
  • Kosovo - from

  • F-117s arrive at Aviano to support possible NATO operations
  • 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

  • Doctors Without Borders
  • U.S. Agency for International Development (Kosovo aid)
  • Doctors of the World
  • The IOM Migration Web
  • InterAction
  • International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies
  • International Committee of the Red Cross
  • Kosovo Humanitarian Disaster Forces Hundreds of Thousands from their Homes
  • Catholic Relief Services
  • Kosovo Relief
  • ReliefWeb: Home page
  • The Jewish Agency for Israel
  • Mercy International

  • Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty
  • Independent Yugoslav radio stations B92
  • Institute for War and Peace Reporting
  • United States Information Agency - Kosovo Crisis

  • Expanded list of related sites on Kosovo
  • The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation Tribune
  • Ministry of Foreign Affairs of P.R.China
  • 1997 view of Kosovo from space - Eurimage
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