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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

NATO Raid Kills 20 Residents of Farm Town




SURDULICA, Yugoslavia -- Accused by Serbian authorities of a "barbaric'' attack that killed at least 20 people - including seven children - NATO admitted Wednesday that one of its laser-guided bombs went astray and slammed into a residential neighborhood of southern Serbia.


The admission came as the alliance blasted targets around Belgrade and elsewhere in Yugoslavia, pushing ahead with its round-the-clock air campaign.


Officials in Surdulica, a farming community of 15,000 people, said they pulled 20 bodies from the ruins of houses flattened in Tuesday's raid. Sixteen corpses were laid out in the local morgue as angry residents denounced NATO with shouts of "Fascists!"


Serbian state television, itself the target of an attack last week that killed at least nine employees, accused NATO of a "barbaric and destructive bombing.''


Yugoslav Information Minister Milan Komnenic said 500 homes were destroyed in the attack.


NATO said a laser-guided bomb went astray and hit a residential area during an attack on an army training center.


Meanwhile, diplomatic efforts aimed at ending the conflict gathered pace, centered chiefly on Moscow, as NATO entered the sixth week of ferocious aerial bombardment intended to halt repression of ethnic Albanians in Serbia's Kosovo province. But there was no sign of an early breakthrough.


"The search for a political solution is a long, complex, drawn-out process. We are at the early stages," UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan told reporters in Berlin before heading to Moscow.


Annan named Slovakia's Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan as a United Nations envoy for Kosovo.


Viktor Chernomyrdin, Russia's special envoy on the Yugoslav crisis, prepared to head back to Belgrade on Thursday for talks with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.


After a meeting with Chernomyrdin, German Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping believed there was "hope for a political settlement,'' Itar-Tass quoted him as saying in Moscow.


But it was unclear whether any new agreements had been reached.


Among the key obstacles to a settlement are NATO's refusal to stop the bombing and Yugoslavia's refusal to accept armed NATO peacekeepers to enforce a peace accord for Kosovo.


Chernomyrdin, a former prime minister, said Tuesday that Belgrade would accept an "international presence'' in Kosovo with Russia's participation. But he acknowledged that Belgrade still insists that members of any force be unarmed or lightly armed - a condition that falls short of what NATO is demanding.


An Associated Press reporter allowed by Serbian police to visit Surdulica, 320 kilometers south of Belgrade, on Tuesday night said bodies were blown apart or charred beyond recognition.


In one cellar where 11 people, including five children, were believed to have been hiding, all that remained were small pieces of burned flesh stuck to bedsheets.


NATO spokesman Jamie Shea told reporters at alliance headquarters in Brussels that the attack had destroyed an army training center, which was considered by NATO planners to be an operational military target.


"During that attack, however, a precision-guided weapon failed to guide accurately to its designated target and impacted some 200 to 300 meters beyond the barracks in a small residential area," Shea said.


He added: "NATO has never, and will never, target civilians."


Britain said it regretted civilian casualties but it was not possible for NATO to eliminate such risks. Yugoslavia says about 1,000 civilians, including many children, have been killed since NATO launched its airstrikes March 24.


In other apparent misfires, NATO previously struck a passenger train in southeastern Serbia and a residential area in the mining town of Aleksinac and acknowledged it may have bombed at least one refugee convoy in Kosovo.


Komnenic, Belgrade's information minister, said the attack on Surdulica was a crime aimed at undermining efforts to bring about a peaceful solution involving the United Nations, something he said NATO opposed.


But Komnenic said the tragedy would not jeopardize what he said was the government's commitment to a peaceful outcome.


The Yugoslav news agency Tanjug said NATO planes again hit the already-devastated oil refinery in the northern city of Novi Sad on Wednesday. It said two strong detonations were heard at 1:30 p.m. local time and heavy smoke poured from the facility. There was no immediate word of any casualties.


In the port of Bar, a Reuters journalist saw the Yugoslav armed forces open fire with anti-aircraft guns and rockets after unidentified planes, assumed to be NATO's, roared overhead. The barrage, from naval boats in the Adriatic port and nearby guns, lasted at least 30 minutes.


Bar, located in Serbia's sister republic of Montenegro, is the entry port for vital oil shipments to Yugoslavia, which NATO is trying to choke off. Eyewitnesses in Montenegro's capital, Podgorica, said several explosions were heard there around 2 p.m. local time and a thick column of smoke was seen rising from the direction of the military airport.