Horror at site of another precisionblunder

Julian Manyon witnesses the devastation following the bombing of Korisa by Nato

THE BODIES had been removed, but scraps of charred flesh remained in an area littered with smashed tractors. A ghastly smell of decomposition hung above the wreckage. Mattresses, cooking pots and bundles of clothing - the personal belongings of the victims of Nato's latest blunder in the Kosovo air campaign - lay scattered all around.

The killing ground in which at least 80 Kosovar Albanians died just before dawn on Friday is surprisingly concentrated. Two small open yards, each the size of a tennis court, face each other on either side of the highway between Prizren and Djakovica.

All the ordnance fell inside the yards. A bomb-damaged sign over one of them indicated that it was a store for agricultural products. It was here, according to the accounts of survivors, that some 600 refugees were herded by the Serbian police when they came down from their hiding place in the hills, three days before the bombing.

Lying in nearby Prizren hospital with a serious leg injury, 71-year-old Bislin Ahmeta said he had been asleep with other members of his family in an open trailer behind their tractor when they were woken by several giant explosions. "It was chaos," he said. "We were terrified."

The old man and his family were lucky. His tractor was parked in the smaller of the two yards, where many survived. In the one across the road, hit apparently by bombs which exploded above ground level, the devastation was total. Here the tractors and their sleeping owners were parked wheel to wheel, and the force of the blasts ripped people and machinery to pieces. All that was left of one tractor was its rear axle, smashed in two.

Our inspection of the wreckage yesterday was hasty. Our official guides, including a naval captain from the army press office in Belgrade, were clearly a little unnerved by the constant drone of Nato jets overhead and the crump of explosions, one of them visible as a plume of grey smoke a mile away in the hills. But it was clear that if it was the two tractor parks that Nato aimed at, they were not in any sense "a legitimate military target".

Some clue to events came in the account of survivors sheltering in a nearby village house. The story they told illustrates the calvary that Kosovo's Albanian population has endured since the Nato air campaign began and indicates how the Serbian police contributed to the ghastly tragedy of Korisa.

The village, they said, had originally contained some 4,000 ethnic Albanians, most of whom fled when the bombing, and the major Serbian offensive against the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), began. Half of the villagers made it across the border to Albania, but the others were turned back by the police and returned to their homes.

Then fighting broke out again. Serbian forces burned houses in the village, and the remaining people fled back into the hills. "We loaded our tractors with flour," said 65-year-old Said Rejaji, another survivor of the bombing, "and we were able to make bread."

After another fortnight in the hills, armed Serbian police found the villagers and ordered them to return to Korisa. But when they came back last week, they were not allowed to go back to their original homes. The police told them that the village, which stretches for more than a mile beside the road, still had to be cleared of KLA fighters. They were ordered to park their tractors in the two yards and remain there, guarded by five Serbian policemen who assured the refugees that they would be safe.

Was this a trap for Nato, or did it simply reflect the fact, which we witnessed yesterday, that the Serbian army has billeted soldiers in some of the village houses to hide them from the bombing? There is not enough evidence to say. In any case, Nato came to Korisa, lured perhaps by the sight of so many vehicles packed together, their identity indistinct from 30,000ft.

If the truth is told, this may emerge, like the bombing of the refugee convoy at Djakovica last month, as another case of misidentification by pilots who can apparently hit the precise vehicle they want, without necessarily being able to tell if it is a refugee tractor or an army truck. As for the "military target" Nato insists it attacked, the Serbian army remains in Korisa in the shape of small groups of soldiers dispersed among the Albanian houses.

Many of the owners of those houses will never be coming back to claim them, regardless of the fate of the air campaign, and Nato has suffered another propaganda defeat.

Julian Manyon is special correspondent for ITN in Yugoslavia.

Voices
On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
scotland decidesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping First Minister up at night?
Arts and Entertainment
Rosalind Buckland, the inspiration for Cider with Rosie died this week
booksBut what is it like to be the person who inspires a classic work of art?
Life and Style
techApple has just launched its latest mobile operating software – so what should you do first?
News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
newsThe 'extremely dangerous' attempt to avoid being impounded has been heavily criticised
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Messi in action for Barcelona
filmSo what makes the little man tick?
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: An undercooked end (spoiler alert)
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding
musicThe singer said 'the last thing I want to do is degrade'
Sport
Cesc Fabregas celebrates his first Chelsea goal
footballChelsea vs Schalke match report
Arts and Entertainment
Toby Jones (left) and Mackenzie Crook in BBC4’s new comedy The Detectorists
tvMackenzie Crook's 'Detectorists' makes the hobby look 'dysfunctional', they say
Life and Style
fashion

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Maths Teacher

£90 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Science Teacher (mater...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for an ...

Maths Teacher

£22000 - £37000 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: A West Yorkshire School i...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week