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Thursday, April 1, 1999 Published at 16:51 GMT 17:51 UK

World: Americas

America wakes to US PoWs

The three soldiers captured by Serb forces

This morning Americans woke to see images of the three captured American soldiers as they appeared on Serbian television.

"We're pretty much in shock," said Jim Stone, father of captured Staff Sgt Christopher J Stone.

Kosovo: Special Report
"We didn't know anything that was going on," he told a local newspaper in his home town in Michigan.

The images were a shock not only because the men were bruised and bloodied, but also because America went to bed on Wednesday night knowing only that three US soldiers were missing.

They have been identified as:

  • Staff Sgt Andrew A Ramirez, 24, from Los Angeles, California
  • Staff Sgt Christopher J Stone, 25, from Smiths Creek, Michigan (about 50 miles north-east of Detroit)
  • Specialist Steven M Gonzales, 24, from Huntsville, Texas

In an ominous final radio message, they said they had come under small arms fire and were surrounded.

Stephen Sackur: Not a good morning in America
"No more was heard from the patrol," a Nato statement had said.

On Thursday morning, US television placed a great deal of emphasis on the fact that the soldiers were bruised and bloodied.

In an exclusive interview with the BBC, Serb paramilitary commander Zeljko Raznatovic, also known as 'Arkan', praised the bravery of the captured Americans:

"They were brave soldiers," he said "They did not want to be captured so they fought and got a little hurt, but that is all."

But some Americans were confused by the capture.

Many believed that US ground troops were not involved in the military campaign, particularly after President Clinton and several members of the military and his administration reiterated their opposition to using ground troops on Wednesday.

The precise details of the capture of the three men are not known yet, but it is thought that men may have accidentally strayed away from their group and across the Kosovo border.

'Could change public opinion'

The TV images could turn public opinion against the Nato air strikes, says BBC Washington Correspondent Katty Kay.

This could in turn affect Washington's policy on continued intervention.

So far, opinion polls have favoured the Western military action in the Balkans, but the US public is highly sensitive to the fate of its servicemen stationed abroad.

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