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Sunday, May 23, 1999 Published at 12:52 GMT 13:52 UK

Propaganda battle over Kosovo

Smouldering wreckage in the aftermath of the Nato raid on Korisa

By Jacky Rowland, BBC Belgrade Correspondent

As the weather over the Balkans has improved, and the Nato bombing campaign has intensifed, the Serbian authorities have allowed a number of foreign journalists to return to Kosovo.

They clearly want more information and more images from the province to reach the outside world.

Kosovo: Special Report
Recently, they took us to the village of Korisa, in south-western Kosovo - the scene of some of the worst carnage caused by Nato bombing.

A number of missiles had hit an encampment of refugees on the outskirts of the village. More than 80 Kosovo Albanians were killed, some of them blown apart, others burnt alive.

When Nato spokesman Jamie Shea heard about the visit, he reacted by saying: "I hope they will impose their will and shake off their minders."

Nato says the site was a legitimate military target. Now apparently it was our job to discover the truth.

Searching for evidence

We were anxious to get to Korisa while the evidence was still relatively fresh. Our army escorts clearly had other ideas. They had a carefully planned timetable for the day and weren't about to be thrown off course by the fact that Nato had just killed the largest number of civilians so far in a single attack.

[ image: Jamie Shea:
Jamie Shea: "Shake off the minders"
The first stop on our tour was an army unit which, we were told, was leaving Kosovo as part of a limited troop pullout. It was an obvious media event. The soldiers were waiting for our arrival before dismantling their rocket launchers for the cameras.

Then, they jumped into three trucks and drove off in a cloud of dust. The whole performance had cost us half an hour. So much for imposing our will, one of my colleagues muttered.

We headed off again, but clearly not towards Korisa. Instead we drove west, past a number of military vehicles cunningly disguised as trees, and to a meeting, so we discovered, with the top army commander in the area.

The general was a professional soldier of the old school. Nonetheless, he seemed to have wised up to Nato's tactics in the propaganda war.

At the first press conference, he said, Nato will accuse the Serbs of carrying out the attack against Korisa. At the second, it will say it doesn't have enough information to determine who carried out the attack.

At the third press conference, Nato will admit it carried out the attack and at the fourth, Nato will say it is sorry.

Inspecting the aftermath

At last, we drove into Korisa and the next phase of the propaganda war. Was this a refugee camp, or was it a legitimate military target? The trail has gone cold. All that was left of the refugees were a few pitiful belongings. As for the military target, it either never existed or was long gone.

[ image: Serb troops pull out of Kosovo]
Serb troops pull out of Kosovo
And so to my satellite phone to file my reports. I was put through to a studio and an assertive presenter. "Now, I really must press you, Jacky", he said "Are you absolutely sure you saw no signs that equipment had been moved?"

I paused for what was only a fraction of a second, but felt much longer. I imagined Jamie Shea and quite a few other people hanging on my words. I was about to tell them the truth, but what truth?

I had seen burnt out tractors and refugee clothing. I had seen what looked like commercial buildings around the site. I had seen no weapons - but I had arrived 36 hours too late and was only allowed to spend 20 minutes at the scene.

Pawn in the game

For the first time in my career as a journalist, I felt that I was a pawn in a much bigger and more sinister game. Nato was passing the buck to us.

We had failed to impose our will on our Serb hosts. But what of the Serbs themselves? Had they really pulled the wool over our eyes?

The fact of the matter is that Kosovo is a complicated place. Things are not as black and white as the horror stories from the refugee camps in Albania and Macedonia would suggest.

Yes, there has been ethnic cleansing. The hundreds of burnt out houses across the rolling Kosovo countryside are ample proof of that.

But other refugees have been able to stay and are even receiving new identity documents from the Serb authorities. Some say they feel safe here, at least for the time being. Ironically, Nato and its seemingly arbitrary attacks could now present the bigger danger to the Kosovo Albanians.

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