War In The Balkans: Friendly Fire - Allies apologise for civilian deaths

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The Independent Online
NATO GENERALS last night apologised for a bombing run in Yugoslavia which killed at least nine refugees, according to an Australian aid agency.

Eight of the victims, mainly Bosnian Serb women and children displaced in the last Balkans conflict, were killed by shrapnel when war planes struck a military warehouse less than 100m from the refugees' accommodation in old army barracks near the city of Nis. The other victim, according to Care Australia, which runs the refugee centres, was killed when bombers struck Serbian police headquarters in Pristina.

Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (Shape), Nato's European military headquarters, apologised for what appeared to be Nato's first killing of civilians during air strikes. It stressed that targets were meticulously planned but could not explain whether it had taken into account the close proximity of a known refugee centre to its intended target.

Steve Pratt, Care Australia's head of Yugoslav operations, said the centre was 37 miles (60km) south-west of Nis. Two of its nine buildings had been damaged by Nato.

Lt-Col Michael Kaemmerer, Shape's spokesman, defended Nato's targeting protocols. "We select the targets very carefully and the targeting is adequate. Our pilots are instructed that if they are not 100 per cent sure of the target then they are under instructions to return without attempting to hit the target. We are very sorry for the loss of civilian lives in this instance and we very much regret the loss of life."

Care Australia is now seeking information on whether any other former military sites it uses are on the Nato strike list. The charity operates more than 100 camps in Kosovo.