Ministers 'tried to cover up report on Kosovo bombs'

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The Independent Online

The Government was yesterday accused of trying to suppress a report showing only three out of 150 unguided bombs dropped by British aircraft in the Kosovo conflict last year were confirmed as hitting their targets.

The Government was yesterday accused of trying to suppress a report showing only three out of 150 unguided bombs dropped by British aircraft in the Kosovo conflict last year were confirmed as hitting their targets.

The dispute was fuelled by the news that the Government had asked the D-Notice Committee, which advises the press on national security, to contact Flight International magazine, which is planning to publish the document.

The report, produced by the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency of the Ministry of Defence, also showed only 40 per cent of all bombs dropped by British aircraft in the campaign hit their target, raising the prospect that there could have been more civilian deaths and damage to property.

John Spellar, armed forces minister, when asked about the approach to the D-Notice Committee, said it was " an attempt, quite justified, to get a balanced report". The original report was "unbalanced" and the committee tried to put matters "into context". Pressed to specify the national security implications in disclosure of material embarrassing to the Government, he said there was information about "command and control ... which could be of use to a potential adversary".

It has also emerged that at a conference in February MoD officials told the media the Kosovo conflict was the most successful bombing campaign there had been. But the statistics, telling a different story, were given to defence chiefs in secret after reporters had left.

An RAF spokesman yesterday said 40 per cent of bombs reached their targets, 30 per cent missed and the rest were unaccounted for. He added: "Because those 30 per cent were unaccounted for does not imply they missed their target. If you are an optimist in life you would assume all hit the target. If you are a pessimist you would say none. The truth is, it is somewhere in the middle." He also defended the 2 per cent hit rate of high-explosive 1,000lb bombs, saying they were used in bad weather against big targets when successful strikes could not be seen.

Rear Admiral Nick Wilkinson, secretary of the D-Notice Committee, defended his involvement and said he had put Flight International in contact with the RAF. "Far from issuing a D-Notice, as some people have put it, I facilitated the whole article being published."

Labour and Conservative MPs accused the MoD of a cover-up and of deceit. The shadow Defence Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, said: "We have been calling for an inquiry for over a year, which the Government have rejected. Now it is clear why this is the case - it is because they wanted to cover up the truth." The Labour backbencher Tam Dalyell said: "How does anyone defend what happened in terms of deceit? They must have known what they said to the press was wrong. I have been to Kosovo; anyone who has been there will have seen the collateral damage." The UK Working Group on Landmines said Nato knew before the conflict that unguided cluster bombs were inaccurate when dropped from altitude, citing a US government review that said wind tended to blow them off-target.

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