War In The Balkans: Refugees lie slaughtered in the road. But who takes the blame? are their killers? killed them?

NATO AND Serbia traded accusations last night over who was responsible for a rocket attack on two refugee convoys in Kosovo that killed at least 60 Albanian civilians.

Accusing Nato of a "crime against humanity", the Serbs said allied jets attacked the convoys of tractors and cars travelling under Serb "escort" yesterday between the western cities of Prizren and Djakovica, and arranged for a Reuters photographer to visit the scene.

The photographer filmed blood-stained bodies lying on a road near abandoned tractors. Pillows and blankets were scattered around as well as human remains.

The Serb Media Centre, based in the Kosovo capital of Pristina, said the first column of about 1,000 Albanians was hit twice near the village of Meja, close to Djakovica, while the second smaller column was hit on the road between Prizren and Djakovica. "In the village of Meja, 64 people were killed and 20 wounded including three Serb policemen who were escorting the convoy," it said. "In the village of Zrze, six people were killed and 11 wounded."

Belgrade exulted openly over what it hopes will prove a fatal Nato blunder. "I don't think those people in Brussels are going to get away with this," said Miodrag Popovic, Serbian Information Minister.

But the Pentagon insisted Nato had struck a military convoy on the Prizren- Djakovica road and suggested the Serbs themselves had bombarded another convoy travelling behind their vehicles in retaliation, or had attacked the refugees on the ground.

The Pentagon spokesman, Kenneth Bacon, said Nato planes had hit a Yugoslav army convoy at 15.30 local time. The pilots had been questioned "and believe they hit only military vehicles". But Nato had also received "verbal reports" that after the convoy was hit, Serb military personnel "got out and attacked civilians ... there may be imagery, film, of that".

The Pentagon said later, quoting Nato, that the pilots had cut short their attack on the convoy when they realised it contained civilians and believe they struck only the military targets. The US claims will revive fears that the Serbs are employing Albanian civilians in Kosovo as "human shields" against air strikes. Washington believes the Serbs are using the forced deportations of Albanians to move tanks and other military equipment around the province and that the refugees are "tacked on", or sandwiched in between, the Serb army vehicles.

In Brussels, the alliance admitted attacking "military targets" in the Prizren-Djakovica area but said it would need to scrutinise the film brought back by the returning planes before making further comment.

Nato's spokesman, Jamie Shea, said it was possible the Serbs had carried out the attack themselves, as they had been using low-flying aircraft in the province.

International observers in Albania, based over the border from Djakovica, expressed some scepticism at the Serbian version of events. They said the refugees' reports were confused and could mean either Serbia or Nato was responsible. "We are hearing that a helicopter went by and threw grenades out; we're hearing reports that a MiG flew by and bombed the column," said Owen O'Sullivan, a monitor with the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, based in the northern Albanian town of Kukes.

The monitor said he was "most surprised" that none of the wounded civilians had crossed into Kukes, as the town is so near the scene of the reported attack.

Refugees who did cross the Albanian border at Morini last night confirmed they had seen the ruins of the convoy but did not know who was responsible. One man said: "We saw the destroyed tractors by the side of the road. There were at least 10 bodies. Some did not have heads or arms or legs." He added: "There were three planes in the attack, but we did not see them well enough to know what sort they were." However, another man crossing later claimed the convoy was attacked by Serbian MiGs

Tony Blair said he feared a human tragedy was being manipulated by the propaganda machine of the Yugoslav President, Slobodan Milosevic. "You can't take at face value any claim made by the Serb authorities; everything they do, they use for propaganda purposes," he said. "We go to extraordinary lengths to avoid civilian casualties at all times. The responsibility for anything that happens to people in this conflict rests with Milosevic."

If Nato does turn out to have massacred the Kosovars, it will - at least temporarily - deal a big blow to the alliance's credibility and undermine its claim to be taking the greatest possible precautions to avoid civilian casualties. It will also embarrass the guerrilla fighters of the Kosovo Liberation Army who have been working in close connection with Nato and supposedly informing it of potential targets in Kosovo.

Yesterday's reported attacks follow Monday's mistaken strike on a train near the southern Serbian town of Leskovac, in which 27 civilians are now said to have been killed.

Nato's Supreme Commander, General Wesley Clark, said it was an "uncanny accident" that a train was crossing the bridge at the very moment Nato was trying to bomb it.

While the alliance was put on the defensive, the spotlight was entirely taken off the Serbs' continuing campaign of ethnic cleansing in the province. Yesterday the Serbs herded another 3,000 Albanian civilians to the frontier with Macedonia.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Sadako Ogata, said 525,000 Kosovo refugees were now outside Kosovo, but it was not known how many remained inside. "We don't know exactly how many there are because many of them have left, and were forced to leave," she said.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application Developer

£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Service Engineers - Doncaster / Hull

£27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Service Only Engineers are requ...

Recruitment Genius: Employability / Recruitment Adviser

£23600 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Employability Service withi...

Day In a Page

Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

The secret CIA Starbucks

The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

One million Britons using food banks

Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

How to run a restaurant

As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
10 best tote bags

Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

Paul Scholes column

I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...