Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Airstrike Kills 64 in Kosovo Convoy




BELGRADE, Yugoslavia -- As NATO warplanes hammered Serb targets in Kosovo on Wednesday, Yugoslavia said one of the strikes hit a convoy of ethnic Albanian refugees under Serb police escort, killing at least 64 people and wounding 20.


NATO said military vehicles on the same road had been targeted.


The aftermath - as seen in Serb-provided video - was horrific. Bodies and belongings were scattered along a rural-looking roadway, and the smashed wreckage of vehicles was visible. People in rough peasant clothing, some with blood streaming down their faces, loaded bodies of the dead and wounded into trunks of cars or wheelbarrows.


Two wounded people lay on a cart, one so blood-covered and still that he appeared dead until he began thrashing his arms. Old men and women wept by the roadside. A young boy sat on a cart, sobbing.


If the reported death toll is accurate, it would mark by far the largest single loss of civilian life reported during the 3-week-old NATO bombing campaign.


As night fell in Belgrade, air sirens wailed yet again, for the 22nd night.


The Serb-run Media Center in the Kosovo capital of Pristina - for which the videotape was shot - said two separate refugee convoys were bombed, most of them made up of women, children and elderly ethnic Albanians being escorted by Serbian police toward the border.


From just across the Albanian frontier at Tropoja, 20 kilometers away, enormous booms were heard.


Yugoslav Foreign Ministry spokesman Nebojsa Vujevic, who along with the media center reported a figure of 64 dead, denounced the strike as a "crime against humanity.''


"The bodies are literally littered on the highway,'' he said.


The Yugoslav army said the columns of refugees were bombed in four separate flyovers and called the number of casualties "huge.''


"The criminal hand of NATO committed today in Kosovo the worst crime of this aggressive war,'' it said.


In Belgium, NATO military spokesman Jamie Shea, asked about the report that a refugee convoy had been hit, acknowledged that "military vehicles were a target on that road this afternoon.'' He said NATO was trying to establish whether the convoy had been hit by mistake.


NATO has been carrying out strikes against Serb ground forces in Kosovo, including strikes on military vehicles and other attempts to limit troop movement.


The incident comes against the backdrop of an enormous uprooting of Kosovo's ethnic Albanians at the hands of Serb forces. Of Kosovo's population of about 2 million, 90 percent were ethnic Albanians - before the gigantic displacement began.


NATO has said repeatedly it held Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic responsible for the safety of ethnic Albanians driven from their homes in Kosovo but unable to leave the province. Estimates have put the number of displaced within Kosovo in the hundreds of thousands.


The Serb Media Center said the first refugee column hit was made up of more than 1,000 people on tractors, trailers, in private cars or on foot. It said the line of refugees was hit twice near the villages of Madanaj and Meja, adjacent to the southwest Kosovo town of Djakovica.


A police source in Djakovica said there were body parts strewn near the blast site.


The second convoy of refugees was hit on the road between Prizren and Djakovica, the Media Center said. It said three policemen escorting the convoy were injured.


On the Albanian side of the border, an aid worker said he had spoken to refugees who witnessed the attack and could not say whether the aircraft were NATO planes.


According to Jeff Rowand of the World Food Program, refugees crossing the Albanian border said they saw three aircraft drop three bombs that hit two tractors, killing many people. Other refugees said they saw mutilated bodies by the road, including those of women and children, Rowand said. Refugees' descriptions of the convoy's movement fits with those of recent arrivals in Macedonia and Albania, who have told of being rounded up by Serb forces and taken under armed escort to the border.


Also, Serbs' assertion that the convoy was made up largely of women and children dovetails with refugee accounts of men considered to be of fighting age were being separated out by the Serbs.


The Serbs have so far reported several hundred civilian casualties due to airstrikes over the past three weeks, but those figures could not be independently confirmed.


On Monday, a NATO jet bombed a passenger train while targeting the bridge it was crossing at the time, killing 10 people according to Serb officials, and last week a residential neighborhood of a mining town was hit, with Yugoslav officials putting the civilian toll at 13.


During the three weeks of allied air raids, several military targets have been hit Djakovica, but so too was part of Djakovica's old town, in what appeared to be stray strikes.


Half a million Kosovar Albanians have fled or been driven out of the province in the past three weeks, the greatest mass displacement in Europe since World War II.


At the Yugoslav-Macedonian border, another group of arrivals - more than 3,000 people - crossed over Wednesday, and large groups were said to have been flooding into Albania as well.


In other developments Wednesday:


-On Albania's border with Yugoslavia, Serb forces shelled a deserted Albanian village they had briefly seized a day earlier, international observers said.


-In Belgrade, a rare daytime air-raid alert sounded at mid-morning while jets were heard flying overhead. Loud sonic booms echoed through the city center. Daytime alerts also briefly sounded in the Montenegrin capital of Podgorica and cities including Novi Sad, Serbia's second-largest.


-In overnight airstrikes, NATO hit a hydroelectric power plant and a major food-processing factory early Wednesday.