CONVOY OF THE DAMNED

When Nato bombed a convoy of Kosovar refugees, the world was horrified. But the world had no idea of the true depths of the tragedy. Now, in a shocking tale of coincidence, cruelty and relentless suffering, Robert Fisk uncovers the full story

THOSE OF US who travelled the road between Djakovica and Prizren on April 15 this year will never forget what we saw, and I'm still not sure why my attention was caught by those snapshots in the ditch. On the previous day, US jets - F-16s and A-10s - had repeatedly struck a 12-mile-long convoy of Kosovo Albanian refugees along this road, Nato's bombs and rockets exploding among the closely packed tractors and trailers. At a bend in the road near Gradis, I came across a man blasted into a tree, his legs missing, an expression of puzzlement on his blood-streaked face. On the road lay the cremated body of a woman, her remains now part of the tarmac. Two miles further on, beside the old Turkish bridge at Bistrazin, was a scene from Bosch's triptych of hell.

Perhaps even the Flemish master could not have painted what we saw. In the burned cab of a red tractor in the middle of the road hunched the naked, scorched body of a man. In the trailer behind lay the incinerated remains of a woman and parts of an old person's legs. They were naked. There was flesh and bone on the road. In a field of grass, 100 metres away, there was a row of bodies. A pretty girl in a coat, an old woman curled up as if sleeping, a man with the inside of his head blown away, his face like a theatrical mask. And in the middle of the field, I discovered the head of a man. A man with a moustache, his short brown hair moving in the wind along with the grass. Just a head, no body; the sort of thing, I remember thinking, that our Tudor ancestors might have found familiar at public executions. I still remember that head, its eyes open, staring at the clouds. These people had been ripped to pieces by Nato's bombs. By us.

So why, I still ask myself, did I worry about those old family photographs, crumpled, torn, spattered with mud, in the ditch? A few convoy survivors had apparently reached Albania, and CNN were already reporting that these poor people - anonymous and never interviewed live - said they'd been attacked by Serbian aircraft. But I had already dug with my hands in the bomb craters to find bomb parts, shrapnel and missile circuit boards. Some of them bore Nato codings, several of them in English. Yet if the evidence was clear-cut, those photographs remained a mystery. There was an old man on one of them, a couple with two children, a little boy smiling from behind a vase of sunflowers, an overprinted photograph of two old women, a passport picture of a beautiful young girl.

The bombing was, of course, an atrocity which the Serbs were happy for us journalists to see. They offered to take us down from Belgrade in two buses, and they did not care, as we travelled across Kosovo, that we also saw hundreds of old Albanian men and women and children being herded into village squares, at their very moment of dispossession, their front doors left open - on orders, no doubt, from the Serb police - holding in their hands cheap suitcases and plastic bags of clothes. We saw the black-curtained buses carrying them from their homes, fearful faces peering at us from the windows. We were watching their "ethnic cleansing". And the male Serb journalists on our buses did not care. One of them happily puffed on a pipe and stared straight in front of him as we drove past burning villages, a blackened mosque, a street of looted shops.

A Serb policeman - three policemen, we were later told - had been wounded in the Nato attack. There had been no military vehicles in the area, a Yugoslav soldier announced. The refugees were on their way back to their homes, the Serbs said, although this seemed hard to believe. Where had they come from? Why would they be travelling on the main road towards the Macedonian border if they were going back to their villages? And why so many? All along the road, for mile after mile, there were scattered tractors and lorries and trailors. Some had obviously been driven into the fields in panic and abandoned there. A trail of clothes and plastic bags and hats and shoes and coats lay in the ditches. This convoy must have stretched across an eighth of southern Kosovo. There had been another massacre near a village called Meja, at the back of the same massive column of human misery. In all, the Serbs said 86 Albanians were killed by Nato. Months later, several Albanians would estimate the dead in their hundreds. Nato never gave a figure. It had no one "on the ground" to find out, it said.

When I took the photographs from the ditch - a few feet from the man's body in the tree, the man with the puzzled expression on his face - I slipped them quickly into my notebook without the Serbs seeing. If survivors had reached Albania, they had already disappeared into the vast, stinking refugee camps. If there were still survivors inside Kosovo, they might not live through the war. So who were the people in my tiny, muddy photograph collection with their gentle, unsuspecting faces? Were they still alive? Could they one day tell us what really happened at midday on 14 April 1999, on the country road between Djakovica and Prizren?

That night, in a bleak old resort hotel near Recane, I studied the pictures by torchlight. I found I had also grabbed, along with the pictures, a blood transfusion certificate in the name of an Albanian woman, Resmije Rama. Her blood type was B, and the document had been signed by a doctor in Djakovica - or Gjakove, as the Serb certificate also gave the town's name in Albanian - on 16 March, 1993. But it was the family snapshots which held my attention. The couple on the sofa were obviously at home, sitting on a sofa with a woollen covered seat, the man's right arm draped round the shoulders of his young wife, his left hand on the chest of his son. Oddly, none of them was smiling. The man, in a black polo-necked pullover, looked worried. And the young woman in the smaller passport snapshot seemed almost bored as she faced the camera. I wiped some of the mud from her mouth. She had two magnificent ruby earrings and tied- back hair. The old man was wearing striped pyjamas and a traditional Albanian conical hat and was smoking a cigarette. Could I ever find them, I wondered? Were they dead or alive?

After the war, I took these photographs back to my home in Beirut along with all the other detritus a journalist gathers on assignment. Pieces of shrapnel, dozens of notebooks and faxed messages and propaganda booklets and tapes of Nato press conferences and newspaper clippings. The pictures lay in a folder in my library, the Mediterranean outside the window, until my return to Kosovo this month. I went back - as I always do after such conflicts - to find out what happened in the war. We journalists may be the only witnesses to history, but we need to return to discover even 50 per cent of the reality, to distinguish the lies from the truth. So when I landed in Budapest and drove down to Belgrade and then on to Kosovo, the folder with those five snapshots and the medical certificate travelled with me. They lay on the back seat of my car as I drove the long road from Pristina to Pec and on to Djakovica, to the very stretch of road where I had seen that carnage just seven months earlier. Indeed, they were in my hand when I stood next to the old Turkish bridge at Bistrazin and found the very spot in the ditch where I had first seen those pictures scattered in the mud.

The "spray" marks of the bomb that destroyed the tractor - the tractor which had the burned, naked man in the cab - were clearly visible on the road. A squad of Italian soldiers, KFOR peacekeepers, was now manning a checkpoint at the very spot where Nato killed those dozens of Albanian refugees. The soldiers knew nothing of what had happened there, of how many ghosts surrounded their little roadblock. They watched with curiosity as I climbed into the field beside the road. There lay the remains of the red tractor cab. Everything else - the trailor, the burned engine, the wheels - had been dumped or scavenged. And there was no sign of the bodies, no graves, no marker, no sign of the young girl or the other corpses, or the human head with the moustache.

It was raining, and a fog clung to the river Drim. On the other side of the water was a Catholic church - 5 per cent of Kosovo Albanians are Catholics, the rest Muslim - and below it a farm with a big wooden gate. There were a few old men there and a boy of 16, Pjeter Prenrecaj, wearing track-suit trousers, his hair matted with rain. "How could I forget what happened?" he asked me impatiently. "It was a very long convoy, and at least 200 tractors had already passed us. There were thousands of Albanians. The Serbs were sending them to the Albanian border. We saw a military convoy going through here, on the other side of the road. And there were some military vehicles in the refugee convoy, between the tractors."

Were the Serbs using the refugees for cover? "Maybe. They sometimes did that," the boy said. "There were not that many army vehicles. I think I saw one lorry. And there was a Zastava truck with a mounted gun. But the army were always moving. They were bound to get mixed up with the refugee convoys." And the dead? "We saw the planes and the bomb exploding all black on the other side of the bridge," Pjeter said. "There were 20 or 30 people in one tractor trailer and most of them were killed. People were throwing themselves into the river.

"One woman was running with her six-year-old but he fell into the river. I found him down there on this bank of the river. He was already drowned. We had taken 55 survivors into our house and others were in the church. When a man brought the body of the child to the mother, she screamed all night. We kept the people here for 12 hours, then the Serb police came and told them to go back to their homes. Two weeks later, they were all expelled to Albania." I showed him my photographs. He shrugged his shoulders. He recognised no one.

And the bodies? "The Serbs wouldn't let anyone take them or bury them until they brought the journalists from Belgrade. I saw the television crews. They came in two buses." Yes, I thought, and I was on one of those buses. And, of course, it had occurred to us at the time that the Serbs would not want the human remains removed before they had shown the world what Nato had done. It was a cold, cruel policy but one the Serbs adopted with their own civilian dead when Nato later bombed the village bridge at Varvarin. If the Serbs had told us dozens had died but provided no evidence, we would have disbelieved them. And if we had believed them, Nato spokesmen would have asked how we could be duped by the Serbs when we could find no bodies to prove the "massacre".

I drove further down the road. A few pieces of rusting metal lay on either side, perforated with shrapnel holes, and there was a tide of rotten, wet clothes, a little boy's glove, a tiny jacket, a woman's shoe with silver paint on the toe and heel, torn open at the front. There were more craters at Gradis and, beyond the road, through the mist, a small Albanian village. On my map, it was called Fshaj; and so I drove down a broken lane to another farm where four massive pigs were rooting through the yard.

Prenk Preci was a Catholic, a generous, smiling man, and he remembered the convoy massacre. "Just over there on the road, a refugee was killed and another cremated," he said. "The man had been driving the tractor, and he had been blown into a tree. We saw the aircraft firing repeatedly into the convoy. I couldn't believe they were Nato planes. I still don't believe it. Why would Nato kill our people? We stayed in our house as they bombed - big black smoke columns were all round, and the glass in our windows broke, and our children were screaming. We got about 350 of the survivors here and looked after them in our rooms and in our basement. They were shouting, and some were terribly wounded and were shrieking with pain. Yes, the [Yugoslav] army moved through convoys so Nato wouldn't hit them. There was also a military truck hit over there, but it wasn't an army truck. It was a bread lorry that a soldier was using to take cigarettes to army bases."

Later that day, unseen by the Serbs, Prenk walked to the road and saw the man hanging in the tree, and the body of a woman who had "melted into the road". They were the same bodies I had seen. But Preci knew the name of the dead man. "He was called Adem Selmonaj," he said. "He came from the village of Nevikoz. The Serbs let us bury him later in our village but not the burned woman. She had two children, that's all I know about her. After the journalists had gone, they just bulldozed her body away with the wreckage on the road and dumped her somewhere. Then they came and washed all the blood and flesh off the road. We found some pieces of the bombs. The children were playing with them afterwards."

I produced my snapshots. Prenk shuffled through them until he came to the picture of the couple on the sofa with their two sons. "I recognise them," he said. "They came to our house with the other survivors. She comes from Nevikoz, too. Two weeks later, the Serbs took her husband away from her and he has never been seen since." I looked at the photograph again. The man in the black polo-neck with the anxious face. What had happened to the wife? Prenk thought she came from the village of Meja, north of Djakovica. But the only name he knew was that of Adem Selmonaj, the tractor-driver blasted into the tree. So next day - a day of sleet and low clouds - I drove along the muddy track to the medieval village of Nevikoz.

It is a place of ancient fortified stone houses only a few miles from the Albanian border, a stronghold of the Kosovo Liberation Army in the months before the war. "We never thought the Serbs would get to us here - the KLA trenches were all around us and we hid arms in the village," an old blacksmith told us. Then he glanced up at the burned houses and the scorch-marks over the windows. The villagers were wrong: the Serbs got here all right. He knew Adem Selmonaj. And he knew where Adem's widow, Ajmone, lived, at the other end of the village.

Her great stone home was burned, but she held out a hand of greeting when I explained why I had come. She was wearing a white scarf and had a face of great nobility and sadness as she led me across the grass. She and her six children now lived in a filthy tent with an oil cooker outside. She showed me a tiny snapshot of her husband. Adem was a silver-haired man with a long face. I recognised him from his corpse in the tree.

"We had been ordered to leave our village just after the war began and had gone to Sheremet," she said. "Then, on the 14th, the Serb police came and ordered us out of our houses. They were taking us out and burning our houses behind us. There was a long convoy of tractors and trailers and we joined it. My husband was driving and the children were in the trailer with me, about 30 of us in all along with some neighbours. There were some Albanian collaborators with the Serbs. We reached Gjakova [Djakovica] by 11am. I couldn't see the back or the front of the column."

Ajmone's 21-year-old daughter had joined us in the rain. She was angry and had not yet adopted her mother's acceptance of tragedy. "The Serbs were telling us to go faster, then go slower," she said. "They were driving up and down our column in troop transporters. When the bombing started, they ran away and left us on our own. I saw a plane fire a missile into a tractor in front of us. It killed at least seven people. We were holding our heads in fear, and because of the noise. There was another tractor hit behind us. We thought no one could survive this."

Adem and his family escaped and drove at speed down the road. Then, opposite the village of Fshaj, the planes came back. "We stopped and we all jumped out and ran into the fields for cover," Ajmone continued. "But we still had some flour on the tractor trailer, so Adem decided to run back and fetch it so it would not be destroyed. There was a woman in the field with us who lived in Drenica and she had her two young children with her. When Adem started back, she ran too, to get some Pampers that were still in the trailer. That's when the plane came back and bombed the tractor. Adem was killed and thrown into the tree. The woman was burned alive and fell on to the road in flames. When the smoke cleared, our tractor just wasn't there any more. There were also some children who lost their legs and the Serbs took them to the hospital."

Ajmone and her family were given sanctuary in what she calls "the Catholic house" - Prenk Preci's home - and on the evening of the following day, the family returned to the road. "I saw my husband's body. He was lying on a tree. The Serbs buried him near the road." Later, Adem's brother would go back to the grave, dig up the body and bury it with ceremony in the village of Fshaj. Still Ajmone cannot believe the planes belonged to Nato. "I think the Serbs did it," she said. She looked through my snapshots and shook her head. Ask the schoolteacher, she told me.

Mehmet Nivokazi - as with many Albanians, his family name comes from his home village - studied my pictures with great care. He pointed to the couple on the sofa. "Her name is Ganimete Ademi and her husband was called Isuf." He didn't know the old man or the woman in earrings. Ganimete and Isuf came from Nevikoz but had lived in Gjakova, he said. Ganimete had a cousin, Fadil, who worked on a farm half a mile away. We plodded through the great waterlogged field, clods of mud sticking to our shoes, until Fadil walked from a burned house and shook our hands. He knew where Ganimete lived now, he said. He thought Isuf was dead. He knew the names of the dead of Novikez by heart: Ali Tafa, Rexhi Rexha, Nushe Alia, Arben Tafa, Shkurte Rexha, Takel Tafa, Argenita Tafa, Besarta Smajli, Hatmane Tafa. These were the convoy dead from just one tiny village. Another nine had been killed elsewhere in the war. Of the 760 villagers, 23 were still missing.

Fadil took me to a grave-site on a hill above a copse of trees. We stopped beside a mound of earth with an anonymous wooden board on top of it and, incongrously, a cup with the logo of the UN High Commissioner for refugees on the side. "It is our custom to place a cup on the grave so that the dead can drink," he said. "This is the grave of Ali Tafa, who was killed on the tractor on the bridge. Next to him, in that small mound, are some bits and pieces of bodies that they found and buried together." Down a narrow lane, we stopped again beside another grave, this time adorned with bright red plastic flowers. "This is the body of Rexhi Rexha. He was beheaded in the attack. We found his body. But we never got his head back. We don't know where it is." How could I forget that head?

It was a grey, soggy afternoon as we drove into the ruins of Djakovica - Gjakova to the Albanians - and Fadil was plying me with questions. What will happen to Kosovo, he wanted to know. "I thank Nato for liberating us. But can we trust them in the future?" He paused. "I think the only people we can trust are ourselves." Then he pointed to a burned-out house, once a family home, now just a box of scorched concrete walls. "Now you will meet Ganimete," he said.

I didn't recognise her. The 34-year-old housewife on the sofa with her husband had turned into a 50-year-old with a face of despair. The little boys in the pictures, the smiling child behind the sunflowers, had grown pitiful. When she asked how I found her, I produced the photograph of her and her husband and said I had found it by the road on April 15. And she took the picture carefully from my hand and kissed it and clutched it to her breast and wept. "It is the only memory I have of him," she said. "We lost every one of our family pictures and now I have this one back. It is the only photograph of Isuf that survives."

I sat on a mattress in a cold, damp, blackened room. Where was the picture of the couple taken, I asked?. "Here, in this room," Ganimete replied. "The sofa was there, against the wall behind you. It was taken just after the New Year. My husband was a chemist. I am a nurse." She told her story amid tears and long, terrible silences while the children watched her with a mixture of fear and incomprehension. "We had been moved from Gjakova to Meja, and on the morning of the 14th, the Serbs told us all to leave. There were thousands of vehicles, tractors, lorries. We left with 40 people in our trailor. The convoy had Serb military vehicles in it. They were escorting us. They were shouting: `You've only got one chance: go to Albania.'

"At the entrance of Gjakova, the Serbs shouted at us: `Go to Gjakova and Nato will save you.' Not far from the bridge at Bistrazin, the first strike came in and the tractor behind us was hit. We saw with our own eyes bones flying in the air, flesh flying past us, bodies in the air. I never thought I should see such things. We ran to the fields but 15 minutes later got back on the tractor and trailer and drove on. Then, near Fshaj, something hit our tractor on the side. The driver of the tractor was wounded - his wife lost two fingers - but we were lucky and were thrown out by the blast. I saw a little girl wounded, but with the other children, we ran to Fshaj. Isuf took two of our younger children, Albulena and Ardyrli, in his arms, and I held the other four and we left everything. Even our family photograph album was blown away by the bomb. It contained the picture you gave me."

The Ademis spent two nights in the crowded basement of the saintly Prenk Preci. "In the dark, everyone was shrieking because there were a lot of wounded people - without legs, without hands, and two or three of them died in the basement in the night. A woman died beside us, leaving two children, and I saw a child dying without a leg. There was screaming all the time. The Serb police came and took seven people to hospital. They did not behave badly, but one of them said to us: `Stop crying. Your Nato did this. This is what you asked for.' Our son had been wounded in the eye. We took a piece of metal from his eye the next day."

After six nights in Fshaj, the Serbs ordered the survivors to return to the houses in Meja. "We walked all the way, the police either walking with us or driving past in cars. I think those bombs came from the Serbs. I will never accept Nato did this to us." She had read Nato's apologies, and she couldn't explain them. Then two weeks later, on 27 April, the Serbs ordered the survivors back on to the roads again, to make the same convoy trek as they did the day Nato attacked them. This time, there were 50 people in the trailer with the Ademis.

"At Meja, there were some hooded men, and they ordered us all to get down from the trailer. They separated the men and led them to a field, and told the women to get on the trailers again. The Serbs separated about 300 men from their families, among them Isuf, my father, Halet, and my two brothers, Hasan and Husejn. They were beaten in front of us and they wouldn't even let them say goodbye to us. They took them into a field and were demanding money from them. The last I saw of Isuf, he was sitting down, with his head on his knees and his hands behind his back. He was wearing blue jeans, a black leather jacket, a black woollen jumper, the same jumper he's wearing in this photograph. I never saw them again."

When Ganimete returned from Albania on 27 June, almost two weeks after Nato troops had entered Kosovo, she returned to her ruined home in Djakovica, put her mother and children in one of the rooms, and walked all the way to the field where she had last seen Isuf. "We found seven bodies and some personal documents, ID cards, passports, watches. I checked through the corpses. They were old and corrupted, but Isuf was not among them. We checked all round the field to see if there was a mass grave. We found nothing. I went back three more times, frightened I would find Isuf dead. Now my spirit doesn't let me go there. There is a mountain behind the field and I did visit this place and there were gobbets of blood on the rocks. Someone told us 100 people were killed here. They found later some head bones, but too small to identify."

Ganimete had stopped crying. I think she had run out of tears. But she wanted me to meet someone even more unfortunate than her, a girl of just 18, Xhylfidane Tafa, who had suffered the torments of hell on the convoy. She had been on the trailer I had found at the Bistrazin bridge, the one with the burned, naked corpses lying across it.

The wind was thrashing the trees in the darkness when we reached the Tafa farmstead. Xhylfidane was just 18, but she ushered me into the family home as mistress of the house. She and her sisters are all that survives of her immediate family. We sat on the floor and spoke by candlelight. There were no tears this time, not a moment of emotion, just an account, taut and terrible and detailed, from the lips of a young woman with a Christ-like face.

"We were ordered from our home here on 14 April by the Serbs," she said. "They said: `We won't harm you - only Nato might attack you.' We were stopped at the village of Dubrosh for two hours. My father Ali was driving the vehicle and an Albanian collaborator called Musk Ichupi was shouting at him. Nato attacked us when we reached Bistrazin. First a tractor from the village of Rac was hit behind us. I saw decapitated people and people thrown on to electricity cables by the blast. We thought at first the Serbs must have done it."

There was no stopping Xhylfidane's tale, a courageously precise exercise in the recollection of horror. "Then a missile hit our tractor, which my father was driving. There was white smoke and I suddenly saw my father and mother burning. And then I heard a very loud voice coming from my father. He was inside the cabin. He was trapped, screaming: `How do I get out?' He was all on fire.

"I saw pieces of my grandmother, Cyrme, and my mother, Hatmane, was burning like a torch. Then a head bounced on my knees, someone's head that had been torn off by the bomb. It fell on to the road and the pressure blew me on to the ground. I walked to the river. I was in a daze and I fell into the water. I was in shock. When I stood up, I saw the head in the road and I felt sorry for it. It belonged to Rexhi Rexha, a local farmer. I felt sorry for the head and so I carried it in my arms and took it to a field and laid it in the field. It had a moustache, and I laid it with its eyes open, looking at the sky."

So that was why I found the dead man's head in the field, looking towards the heavens. So now I knew the identity of the naked, burned driver of the tractor on the Bistrazin bridge. And the women in the back. Thirteen of the civilians on the trailor had been killed, including a girl called Violete. I had seen her body. I had seen Xhylfidane's cousin Argenite dead, and the daughter of another cousin, four-year old Blevina. To those awful corpses there were now names. I even discovered that Resmije Rama - the woman whose medical certificate I had found by the road - was the sister-in-law of Adem Selmonaj who had returned to his tractor in Gradis. She had survived.

Had Xhylfidane anything more terrible to tell us? She had. "My sister Besarta was wounded in the thigh. My other sister was wounded behind the ear and on the head. My cousin Kytesa was wounded in the face. We slept the night in the field next to the burning tractor. I saw the bodies of my parents a second time, two hours later. They were still burning. In the morning, we were ordered to go home. We were not allowed by the Serbs to take any of the bodies of our family. They were still on fire inside the tractor and trailer. The Serb police were guarding them. They wouldn't allow us even to look at them. I don't know why." Xhylfidane's father was buried by the road. She never saw the bodies of her mother and grandmother again.

The girls returned to Dobrush and spent 12 days there - until the Serbs told them to leave once more, on the same convoy that Ganimete and her husband were on. Xhylfidane and her sisters also watched young men separated from the column. Masked men fired over their heads. An Albanian collaborator called Muharem Mushki demanded money from them. "He searched us - he did this to me and two other girls. He said `You Nevikozi have got to give me money.' Then, when we reached Korenice, we saw men being rounded up in a field."

Again, Xhylfidane's voice doesn't falter. Still there are no tears. "Some Serb men stopped us there and forced us to watch these men - about 50 - shot dead. They killed them all in front of our eyes and they went on shooting at the dead bodies. They were paramilitaries; they had red berets and various uniforms, and they wore coloured scarves on their sleeves and round their foreheads. Most wore black sunglasses. The Albanian men had been shouting for their lives, saying `Oh my God!' but the Serb men were smiling as they shot them. We were putting our hands to our ears so as not to hear the screaming. Later, we saw three pigs eating the body of one of the dead men. We stayed there five minutes in all - the Serbs wanted us to see how they killed them."

After she had spoken, an awful silence filled the room, broken only by the gale in the trees outside. Xhylfidane knew that Nato had bombed the convoy. She had heard Nato's apologies - that they had mistaken the tractors for tanks, that they were flying too high (to save their own lives, of course) to correctly identify what they were bombing. She did not know that the A-10s that attacked her convoy fired depleted uranium ammunition, that the survivors must have ingested uranium dust, which - even in its most discreet warnings - Nato regards as highly toxic and dangerous. DU munitions may well be the cause of massive cancers in Iraq, and even of Gulf War Syndrome. These people must have been drenched with the stuff. I didn't have the heart or courage to say this.

But I wondered whether Xhylfidane and her wounded sisters and the children of Ganimete and Ajmone might expect some recompense from Nato. They could expect nothing from the Serbs. But Nato might, perhaps, make some small gesture of compassion. The new US base in Kosovo - complete with hamburger joints and clubs - is costing $32m. A small part of this - an infinitesimal fraction - could send these young people to university, could show that we cared for them.

But no, Xhylfidane said, there had been no visitors. "Nobody from Nato came to see us," she said. "Not a single person." Nor am I surprised. Less than a month ago, the Nato officer commanding the air attack, a certain General Leaf, announced that "to this day I don't know if we killed any civilians". And this from an organisation that complained it did not know the truth because it had no men "on the ground". Now it has 40,000 soldiers in Kosovo. But it's not going near the scene of the convoy massacre. And I recalled what a Hague war crimes tribunal man had told me about the graves of the convoy dead. "We won't be opening those," he said firmly.

And then I remembered the clip of film which Nato's spokesman, James Shea, showed at the press conference in which American pilots revealed that they had mistakenly bombed the convoy. It showed Ali Tafa, Xhylfidane's father, driving ever faster in his tractor as the bomber's cross-hairs caught the vehicle and trailer in its sights. Then there was a bright white flash and the Tafa family were destroyed. Xhylfidane told me she too saw this clip of film. And so did James Shea, Nato's spokesman, who was afterwards asked how he felt, personally, when he saw it.

His reply was as brief as it was shameful, "I think, in a sense, it is to be regretted," he said. Could the Serbs have put it better? 1

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    A tale of two presidents

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    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

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    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
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    Gallery rage

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    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

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    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
    Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

    Women's rugby

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    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

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    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

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    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

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