The Independent, 4-13-99

Nato attack on train kills ten
By Robert Fisk in Belgrade
NATO JETS blasted a Yugoslav
passenger train off a railway bridge
in southern Serbia yesterday, killing
at least10 people and bringing to
well over 60 the number of civilians
to have died at the alliance's hands
in the past two weeks. Nato spokesmen
said they "regretted" civilian
casualties on the train - part of
which caught fire when two carriages
plunged into a ravine - but claimed
that the railway track was "an
important military supply line". The
Yugoslav government called it a
"criminal attack".
Two missiles were fired by a Nato jet
at the bridge near Leskovac, 200
miles south of Belgrade as the
passenger train, apparently on route
from the Serbian capital via Skopje
to Thessalonika in Greece, was on a
span above the deep gorge of the
Morava river. Initial reports
suggested that the first missile
brought down cables and immobilised
the electric locomotive hauling the
carriages - Yugoslav State Railways
train No 393 - over the chasm. The
second missile exploded beside the
carriages, blasting two of them right
off the bridge and setting fire to
Blood-covered debris lay below the
bridge and most of the dead, who
included a 10-year-old child, were
reported to have been burned alive.
Nabojsa Vujevic, the Yugoslav foreign
ministry spokesman, said that several
Greek journalists were travelling
home on the train from Belgrade. A
road crosses the gorge at the same
point as the railway bridge near
Leskovac but the Nato jet appeared to
be aiming at the track.
Nato is believed to possess film of
the attack - although it did not
choose to make the tape public last
night as it normally does after its
air raids - and a Nato spokesman in
Brussels said its bombing attacks on
Yugoslav targets would continue. An
oil refinery was hit on Monday
morning and another missile smashed
into the giant Zastava car factory at
Kragujevac where 120 Serb workers
were wounded last week.
While it insists that it takes "every
precaution" to prevent civilian
casualties, Nato's attacks have been
so broadened in the past 10 days that
large numbers of Serb civilian deaths
have become inevitable.
A Nato jet - believed by Yugoslav
forces to be an RAF Harrier - killed
up to 24 civilians at Aleksinac 10
days ago while another Nato air
strike on the civilian centre of
Pristina last week killed 10
civilians, half of them Muslims.
Civilians were driving over the river
Danube at Novi Sad north of Belgrade
last week when a Nato missile struck
the bridge. Only a miracle saved the
motorists from plunging into the
Nato's regrets are becoming routine.
It said that a "malfunction" in a
bomb aimed at a military target may
have been responsible for the
Aleksinac slaughter and yesterday
again expressed its sorrow at the
killings near Leskovac. Even as it
did so, Nato foreign ministers
insisted that it would continue with
its air bombardment of Yugoslavia
because the killings and suffering of
Kosovo Albanian refugees at Serb
hands represented a "fundamental
challenge to the values of democracy
and human right and the rule of law".
The bombing would continue until
President Slobodan Milosevic withdrew
his military units from the Serbian
province, Nato said.
Yesterday evening, James Shea, Nato's
spokesman in Brussels, acknowledged
that there was a train "on or near"
the Leskovac bridge at the time of
the air strike. "But I want to stress
very strongly indeed that there was
no intention whatever to cause damage
on the train," he said. "Nato has
gone to extraordinary lengths to
avoid collateral casualties during
its operations."
But the broadening of Nato's attack
rules to include bridges and railways
mean that it is prepared to risk
killing civilians. Nato's initial
attacks against Yugoslavia were
almost exclusively targeted on
military barracks and air defence
locations - so specifically that even
Yugoslav army officers acknowledged
their accuracy. But once the alliance
decided to attack ordinary transport
systems, it knew that civilians would
inevitably be killed. Any road in
Yugoslavia can be called a "military
supply line" - it was a phrase used
by western forces every day during
the 1991 Gulf war to justify attacks
which killed civilians in Iraq.
Aerial reconnaissance pictures would
have shown Nato planners that
Yugoslav passenger trains were still
running scheduled services on many

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