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Tuesday, April 6, 1999 Published at 19:05 GMT 20:05 UK

World: Europe

Serbs declare Kosovo ceasefire

Aleksinac's injured after a night of heavy bombing

Live coverage l Map of overnight Nato strikes

Kosovo: Special Report
The Yugoslav leadership has declared a unilateral ceasefire in Kosovo to mark Orthodox Easter.

But Western leaders swiftly denounced the move saying it fell short of what was needed to halt the 13-day-old Nato air attacks.

Serbian media quoted an official statement saying "all actions against the aggressive Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) will be unilaterally halted at 2000 hours (1800 GMT) in honour of the greatest Orthodox Christian holiday, Easter".

Yugoslavian Deputy Prime Minister Vuk Draskovic: "We will discuss withdrawing troops once bombing raids on us have stopped"
The Yugoslav Government pledged to work with the moderate ethnic Albanian leader, Ibrahim Rugova, on a final settlement to the crisis which would allow refugees to return.

The statement said that Belgrade would work for the return of about 400,000 ethnic Albanians who have fled Kosovo.

Shortly after the ceasefire came into force Serbian TV, quoting the army information service, reported that all Yugoslav army units in Kosovo were complying with the order from Belgrade.

Russian President Boris Yeltsin said that he welcomed the initiative in principle.

Plan rejected

But the plan was rejected in the US with the White House saying it was not interested in "hollow gestures".

Brian Hanrahan reports: "An international force is needed to protect the Kosovar Albanians"
US Defence Secretary William Cohen said the Serb ceasefire idea was "not only completely unacceptable but absurd".

Mr Cohen said accepting a ceasefire now would be an "abdication of responsibility" by Nato.

Belgrade's offer was also dismissed in London. The Ministry of Defence dismissed the truce as the "grubby kind of offer".

Officials said it was just a sign of the Serbs "trying it on". They said the Serbs must demonstrate once and for all that the repression had ended and that forces had been withdrawn and refugees allowed back.

[ image:  ]
UK Prime Minister Tony Blair's office said the Yugoslav action "falls way short".

Heaviest bombing yet

The ceasefire offer follows the heaviest night of raids over Yugoslavia since the Nato campaign began.

BBC World Affairs Editor John Simpson: "This may just be an excuse to stop"
Nato admitted that it may have hit a residential area in southern Serbia during the bombardment.

Air Commodore David Wilby said a missile which struck the town of Aleksinac had been 600 metres short of the military post targeted.

[ image: Rescue workers on the ground in Aleksinac]
Rescue workers on the ground in Aleksinac
Mr Wilby said the "impact error" could have been a technical failure, such as a guidance fault, or could have even been caused by anti-aircraft fire.

"Any unintended damage to civilian property or loss of life... is very much regretted," he said.

Serbian media said the strike on the southern mining town had killed at least five people and injured another 30.

Television reports said about 10 buildings had been destroyed, as well as a centre for emergencies and a medical dispensary.

Air Commodore Wilby said an investigation was under way to establish what had happened.

Intensive attacks

Clearer skies on Monday night allowed Nato to carry out its most intensive air attacks over Yugoslavia so far.

[ image:  ]
Bridges, air defence radars and communications, airfields, police headquarters and petroleum facilities had been targetted by missiles and bombs.

Air Commodore Wilby said the bombing had yielded "good results" and that all aircraft had returned safely to base on completion of their mission.

He said attacks against armoured forces in Kosovo were being extended into daylight hours and also confirmed that Nato had destroyed four Yugoslav MiG warplanes on the ground two days ago.

'Brutal strike'

Serbian TV showed footage fires and devastation after the bombing.

The state-run Tanjug news agency reported five big explosions in Serbia's second city Nis and said Nato warplanes had struck in or near at least a futher five Serbian towns.

[ image: Milosevic: Vow to rebuild]
Milosevic: Vow to rebuild
State television also reported that missiles had hit a fuel depot in the northern town of Sombor sending a huge fireball into the sky.

Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic voiced new defiance in the face of the Nato bombing.

Yugoslavs are "ready to defend their country", his office said in a statement.

William Horsley: "Apache helicopters will soon be arriving to step up the attacks"
The province of Kosovo also came under fire, with reports that several missiles blasted a barracks at Prizren, Kosovo's second largest city.

A communications relay station near Kosovo's capital Pristina and targets on the main road from Kosovo to Serbia were also hit, Tanjug said.

Airlift under way

Bill Clinton: "Empty promises won't do the job"
Some of those displaced by the turmoil in Kosovo have begun to be airlifted out of refugee camps to other countries which have promised to accept them on a temporary basis.

The first of those refugees were reported to be arriving in Turkey, which has promised respite for 20,000 people escaping Serbian violence.

[ image:  ]

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