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Thursday, April 15, 1999 Published at 15:40 GMT 16:40 UK


World: Europe

Fog of war shrouds refugee deaths

There are suggestions that two separate convoys were involved

There have been conflicting claims over who was responsible for the deaths of more than 60 refugees in southern Kosovo. BBC News Online sets out how the news emerged.

Wednesday, 14 April

1556 GMT - Serbian media reports that Nato missiles hit a refugee convoy in Kosovo.

Kosovo: Special Report
Officials in Pristina say there were two separate attacks by Nato missiles. In one, in the village of Maja, 64 people were killed and 20 were wounded, including three Serb policemen who were escorting a refugee convoy, while in another in the village of Zrze, six people were killed and 11 wounded, they said.

1630 GMT - Nato plays down Serb claims as propaganda. A Nato spokesman says planes were only bombing sites connected with the Serb military.


The BBC's David Sells: For material targets, the word 'military' has been stretched to breaking point
1708 GMT - A police source in Djakovica says body parts were strewn near the blast site. The Serb Media Centre says the first refugee column was hit twice, near the villages of Madanaj and Meja, adjacent to the south-west Kosovo town of Djakovica. The second convoy of refugees was hit on the road between Prizren and Djakovica. It says three policemen escorting the convoy were also injured.

1759 GMT - Refugees crossing the Albanian border say they saw three aircraft drop three bombs that hit two tractors, killing many people. Other refugees say they saw bodies by the road, including those of women and children.

1806 GMT - According to some reports, alliance sources unofficially admit that their aircraft were active in the area.

1823 GMT - Refugees crossing into Albania tell how another convoy of refugees was hit in an air strike on a road in the province.

They say at least 10 people were killed when three unidentified jets dropped bombs or missiles on the road, destroying two tractors carrying refugees in the convoy.

1844 GMT- RAF sources say UK Harriers were not involved in the attack.

1906 GMT - Nato confirms its war planes had attacked Yugoslav military vehicles on a road where the convoy was attacked. Nato officials are said to be investigating the possibility that those killed were being used by the Serbs as human shields to protect a military convoy.

2005 GMT - The UK Prime Minister Tony Blair says: " I wouldn't believe or take at face value anything the Serb authorities say."

2055 GMT - In Washington, the Pentagon says it has evidence from refugees that Yugoslav planes attacked the refugee convoys in the Serbian province.

Pentagon spokesman, Kevin Bacon releases details of a telephone conversation with General Wesley Clark, Supreme Nato Commander, in which Gen Clark told him he had received "verbal reports of the possibility" that after military vehicles in the convoy were hit, "military people got out and ... began to attack civilians in the middle of the convoy".

2310 GMT - UK Defence Secretary George Robertson says there are "indications" that the attack on the convoy was carried out by Serb forces. However, speaking on the BBC's Newsnight programme, he confirmed there was an attack by Nato aircraft on a military convoy near where the killing happened.

Thursday, 15 April

0800 GMT Nato spokesman Jamie Shea says civilian casualties may have occurred after alliance planes attacked a convoy of vehicles, but insists the target was military.

1100 GMT The UK Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, says: "It is not possible to guarantee there will be no civilian casualties. We understand that yesterday on a country road a number of people lost their lives which may have been during allied air attacks." He says an investigation was continuing and more details would be released later.

1230 GMT Nato admits that one of its planes mistakenly bombed a refugee convoy. It says a preliminary investigation appears to show a bomb was dropped on a civilian vehicle, but says Serb security vehicles may have been in or around the convoy. It regrets any harm to innocent civilians and says investigations are continuing.

1400 GMT Nato gives full details of what it describes as a "tragic accident". The alliance plays a recorded interview with the pilot who explains how he was convinced he was attacking Serb military units which had been moving north to south, burning people out of their homes.

Apologising for the loss of life, alliance spokesman Jamie Shea says: "Sometimes one has to risk the lives of the few to save the lives of the many".



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