In the controversial incident at the village of Korisa, two laser-guided 500lb bombs and six "gravity" or "dumb" 500lb bombs were dropped on two walled yards facing each other across the road between Djakovica and Prizren. Western journalists who visited the scene saw burnt scraps of flesh and the scattered possessions of villagers - but no sign of a military presence beyond a small number of soldiers apparently billeted in nearby homes.
Survivors said they had been ordered to stay in the yards after returning to the village three days earlier. They had fled to the hills when fighting broke out in Korisa, but had been ordered back when Serbian police found them. They had not been allowed to return to their houses.
Nato said, however, that Serbian troops had set up a camp and command post at Korisa, complete with an armoured personnel carrier and 10 pieces of artillery, and had been operating from there since April.
"It was a legitimate military target," said Paul Daniels, a Nato spokesman in Brussels. "If there are civilians at a military target, we didn't put them there."
There were suggestions that Serbian troops could have removed the remains of military vehicles before taking television crews to Korisa, more than 12 hours after the raid.
Major-General Charles Wald, of the US Air Force, told a briefing at the Pentagon that two flights of two US F-16s were involved in the attack and that two of the planes each dropped one laser-guided bomb and a third plane dropped six gravity bombs just before midnight local time on Thursday. Maj-Gen Wald played a flickering gun-camera video of the Korisa attack, which showed the bombs hitting the ground.
Nato's military spokesman, Major-General Walter Jertz, denied that any cluster bombs, which release hundreds of tiny "bomblets", had been dropped.
UK government sources hinted that President Slobodan Milosevic may have forced the refugees into a military area as a "human shield" because he knew it would be a target for the air strikes. "The tactic is one that he uses," they said.
Nato spokesman Jamie Shea added that there were reports of soldiers among the casualties.
The Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, stressed that the alliance had never intended to kill civilians, but confirmed the attack on the village had been deliberate. "There were clear military targets on these sites ... that is why it was attacked. No death is acceptable, but casualties are an inevitable consequence of conflict."
This is the first time the alliance has been forced to take responsibility for large numbers of civilian casualties from deliberate actions. Previous civilian deaths, including the bombing of a convoy of refugees near Djakovica and the attack on the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, were explained as "mistakes".
The admission will increase tension between Nato, Russia and China and make it harder to reach a diplomatic solution. Mr Cook yesterday spoke to the Chinese foreign minister Tang Jiaxuan in an attempt to shore up relations following the embassy bombing. Furious negotiations are now going on about the wording of a UN Security Council resolution - for which Chinese and Russian backing is essential - on the future of Kosovo.Reuse content