War In The Balkans: Nato `kills 20' in second bus bombing as Blair pledges to double aid for refugees

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NATO WAS accused by the Serbs yesterday of again bombing civilians. The latest attack reportedly killed 20 people travelling with police escorts between the Kosovo town of Pec and neighbouring Montenegro.

The second alliance attack on civilians in 72 hours came yesterday while Tony Blair was visiting refugee camps in Macedonia on a trip to the frontline states. Britain has been criticised for taking small numbers of refugees compared with its allies and Mr Blair responded by announcing a doubling of financial aid to the region as well as offering to take more refugees.

The latest civilian bombing has put the allies on the defensive while Mr Blair and President Bill Clinton are on high-profile visits. Mr Clinton, facing increasing opposition to the war at home, is due to visit Nato servicemen in Ramstein, Germany, where he is expected to meet the three servicemen freed with the help of the Rev Jesse Jackson.

The Serbs said that after yesterday's attack on civilians near Savine Vode, Nato planes continued to bomb the area, preventing rescuers from reaching the bus. A Nato spokesman said: "We cannot confirm or deny these reports at present." Alliance sources disputed the Serb claims, saying it was unlikely that a civilian convoy would be in the area, the Rugova Gorge, the scene of battles between Serb forces and the Kosovo Liberation Army. They pointed to Serb radio reports which said a police vehicle, three civilian vehicles and a bus had been hit, suggesting the Nato strike had been on a mixed police and civilian convoy, or a convoy using refugees as human shields.

In the meantime, Nato bombs cut off 70 per cent of Serbia's electricity supply after raids on power plants using "soft bombs" ejecting graphite coils, which conduct electricity. The Nato spokesman Jamie Shea said: "Our objective is not to deprive the Serb people of their electrical grid but to be able to disrupt and degrade at will the power which drives the military machine."

He acknowledged the inconvenience to civilians but said: "It is up to [President Slob- odan] Milosevic to decide how he wishes to use his remaining energy resources - on his tanks or on his people."

In Macedonia, Mr Blair said that as well as increasing its intake of refugees, Britain would double refugee-related aid to pounds 40m.

He made his offer during a visit in which he met President Kiro Gligorov and the Prime Minister, Ljubco Georgievski, British soldiers based in the country, and Kosovars dispossessed by Mr Milosevic's forces. Surrounded by children chanting "Tony, Tony" at Stankovic, Macedonia's biggest refugee camp, Mr Blair said the West's commitment to defeating "Serbian ethnic cleansing is total".

Meanwhile, the destabilisation of the pro-Western Yugoslav republic of Montenegro continued when the pro- Milosevic opposition called on the government to subordinate its authority to that of Mr Milosevic's Yugoslav army.

The Socialist People's Party - a local branch of Mr Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia - called for the Yugoslav army to be officially acknowledged as Montenegro's "main armed force".

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