Nato strike `kills nine in charity shelters', says aid agency

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The Independent Online
NATO AIR strikes on military targets in Yugoslavia have killed at least nine refugees sheltering in old army barracks, the aid agency Care said yesterday.

Care Australia spokesman Andrew Rhodes confirmed last night that charity workers in Yugoslavia had logged the deaths of eight Serb refugees killed by shrapnel at a shelter south of Nis and one refugee died during a bombing run near Pristina. The Nis victims were Serbs forced from their homes in Bosnia during the earlier Balkans conflict.

Care Yugoslavia has reported the unconfirmed deaths of six more refugees in four other Care sites. The charity, which operates 128 refugee camps in Kosovo alone, mainly in old army buildings, is now seeking urgent talks with Nato over whether such buildings are still considered targets.

Care's spokesman in Belgrade, Steve Pratt, said the nine people confirmed killed had been housed in two Serbian sites that were part of a network of shelters housing Bosnian, Croatian and Serb refugees.

"They were not directly hit, they don't seem to have been deliberately targeted. But they were within 100 or perhaps 200 metres of other military targets that had been hit and these centres were close enough to suffer severe damage and to create fatalities." He said the centre where eight refugees were confirmed killed was 37 miles southwest of the city of Nis in an old army barracks.

Two of the nine buildings had been damaged when Nato hit a warehouse about 100 yards away. "I believe [the damage] was accidental," Mr Pratt said. "The target ... was quite a well-known military complex, and clearly that was what Nato were going for and indeed the impact point was certainly in that complex."

Nato last night said it was unable to confirm the deaths. A Ministry of Defence spokesman said that it had no further information.