Serb army `unscathed by Nato' KLA `killed more Serbs than Nato' Nato did'

Robert Fisk
Monday 21 June 1999 00:02 BST

NATO KILLED far more Serb civilians than soldiers during its 11-week bombardment of the country and most of the Yugoslav Third Army emerged unscathed from the massive air attacks on its forces in Kosovo, according to evidence emerging in Yugoslavia.

Nato officers have been astonished that thousands of Yugoslav tanks, missile launchers, artillery batteries, personnel carriers and trucks have been withdrawn from the province with barely a scratch on them. At least 60,000 Yugoslav troops - rather than the 40,000 estimated - were waiting to fight the Western armies in Kosovo.

Yugoslav military sources said that more than half the 600 or so soldiers who died in Serbia were killed in guerrilla fighting with the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) rather than by Nato bombing. They added that preparations for war began a year ago when military intelligence in Belgrade learned that the United States was building a secret satellite targeting navigation station in Bulgaria.

Meanwhile, it has become clear that the entry of Russian forces into Kosovo - far from being the act of "renegade soldiers"or a "misunderstanding", as the White House would have it - was organised a week before Nato troops entered the province. The Ministry of Defence in Moscow sent a coded message to Russian troops at Uglevik in Bosnia ordering them to take Pristina airport in advance of British forces. It was known as "Operation Shield".

Wartime statistics are notoriously unreliable, but investigations by Western correspondents and humanitarian agencies of Nato bombing incidents appear to confirm the official civilian casualty toll of around 1,500. At least 450 of these died in Nato's repeated "mistakes", when alliance aircraft bombed a train at Grdelica, a bridge at Varvarin, housing estates at Surdulica, Aleksinac and Cuprija, a bus at Luzane, an Albanian refugee convoy in Kosovo and made other attacks on civilians. Many others died in what Nato referred to as "collateral damage" in attacks around Belgrade, Kraljevo, Kragujevac, Nis and Novi Sad.

According to figures given to The Independent by a Yugoslav military source, only 132 members of the armed forces were killed in Nato attacks. General Nebojsa Pavkovic, the commander of the Yugoslav Third Army, has given a different figure: 169 soldiers killed in Kosovo under Nato assault and 299 wounded. Yugoslavia's President, Slobodan Milosevic, says that 462 members of the Yugoslav army and 112 police (including the MUP, the interior ministry forces) were killed.

But more than 300 soldiers are thought to have died in guerrilla attacks. Inquiries by The Independent suggest that Serbian troops died at KLA hands in Djakovica, Stimlje, Pudujevo and Pristina.

Military fatalities among soldiers whose homes were in the centre of Novi Sad - Yugoslavia's third largest city - turned up only two names.

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