War in the Balkans: Bombing - Soldiers `locked refugees in pen' before air strike

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SERB SOLDIERS locked a group of Albanian refugees into a farm compound in Kosovo hours before Nato bombed the area, killing 80 of them, three survivors who have reached Albania said.

Haxhere Palushi told The New York Times that the bombing of the compound at Korisa, near Prizren, south-west Kosovo, on 13 May took place soon after 700 refugees were herded into the small space by Serb soldiers and padlocked in. "One young guy said, `Why did they lock us in? Something is happening'," she recalled.

Hours later the walled and gated compound was hit from the air, killing Mrs Palushi's daughter among many others and provoking an international outcry against a Nato "massacre".

The Serb authorities announced evidence of what they described as an alliance war crime and took reporters to the site immediately.

There they displayed the debris and dead bodies for the benefit of the television cameras, though without giving the bused-in Western reporters much time to interview the few stunned and shell-shocked survivors.

Mrs Palushi and two other female survivors, interviewed by the US newspaper in a refugee camp in Kukes, northern Albania, said they had no doubt that the Serbs had put them in danger on purpose. "They used us as human shields," she was reported as saying. "It was all planned."

Nato has consistently accused the Serbs of using remaining ethnic Albanians in Kosovo as human shields, herding them into buildings or compounds close to military sites, or to other areas that appear likely to be targeted by alliance jets.

So far, massacres such as the bombing of Korisa have generally been attributed in the Western media to military "blunders".