War in the Balkans: Bombers' attack on Serb prison kills 19

Target Errors
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The Independent Online
FRESH CONCERNS over the accuracy of the Nato air campaign have surfaced again after alliance bombers struck the Swiss ambassadors residence and a Serb prison killing 19 staff and inmates.

The latest blunder prompted, Joschka Fischer, the German Foreign Minister, to demand a an urgent reassessment of Nato's target list.

Serbian authorities said Nato hit a jail in Kosovo for the second time on Thursday night. Belgrade said that 19 people, including the Serbian deputy governor, were killed when the jail at Istok was hit. They admitted that several of the 1,000 prisoners, who were mainly Albanians, succeeded in escaping after the blast.

At the Swiss ambassador's residence windows were blown out, and paintings fell off the walls while the Swiss, Slovak, Swedish, and Vatican ambassadors were eating their dessert at a reception held in honour of Swiss national day.

Mats Staffansson, the Swedish ambassador, told a Swedish newspaper: "Myself, the Slovak ambassador and the Vatican ambassador threw ourselves under the dining-room table to get out of the way of the flying glass."

Switzerland has made diplomatic representations to Nato and the United States over the bomb damage, and Madeleine Kunin, the US ambassador to Berne, apologised to the Swiss Foreign Ministry for the incident. For the Swedish ambassador it was particularly unfortunate, as his own residence was damaged by a Nato bomb the previous night.

The neurological department of a Belgrade hospital was also bombed by accident on Wednesday night, killing at least three people. Earlier this month, three reporters were killed when the Chinese embassy in Belgrade took a direct hit from Nato bombs. The residences of the Spanish, Indian, Norwegian and Hungarian ambassadors to Yugoslavia have also been damaged in the bombing.

Nato apologised for damaging the Swiss embassy. But it said its targeting errors, though widely reported and apparently increasing in number, were minuscule in relation to the total war effort.

A spokesman said that the total number of Nato blunders after almost 60 days numbered about a dozen, which amounted to less than 0.1 per cent of the total missiles fired.

Echoing Nato, a US spokesman said that Nato's air campaign against Yugoslavia is the most accurate in history. But he added that diplomats still in the country should know it is a dangerous place. While the US government has made arrangements for its own diplomats to leave, "we don't make those decisions for other countries," he said.

With scant sign of diplomatic progress on Kosovo, Nato's bombing campaign is due to continue, in spite of calls from Italy and other alliance states for a halt, or at least a pause. Envoys from seven Western powers and Russia met yesterday for more talks on drafting a UN Security Council resolution on Kosovo that could pave the way to a settlement, but there was no indication last night that the eight powers were close to an agreement.

The Serb leader, Slobodan Milosevic, told Russia's Balkan envoy, Viktor Chernomyrdin, earlier this week that Belgrade still opposes the West's key demand for an end to the war: for Serbia to withdraw all its police and troops from Kosovo, and so enable about one million refugees to start returning.