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NATO BOMBS CIVVY TRAIN; COLLATERAL DAMAGE: 20 feared dead as Allied jet hits Serb railway bridge.

AT least 20 civilians were feared dead yesterday after a NATO bomb hit a passenger train.

Another 40 people are thought to have been injured when a NATO jet targeted a bridge as part of the bombing campaign in Yugoslavia.

The missile hit the train and blew two carriages into a ravine.

Last night, nine bodies had been pulled from the wreckage, one of them thought to be that of a little girl. More were expected to follow.

NATO chiefs said they had not deliberately targeted the train, but admitted that one of their missiles was responsible for the devastation. They refused to reveal whether the aircraft involved was British or American.

The accident happened near Leskovac, 180 miles south of Belgrade. A Serb official said the train had been stranded on the bridge after a NATO plane attacked a nearby road bridge, cutting the main electric power supply.

"The plane then returned and hit the train," he claimed.

Yugoslav rail officials said that as well as two carriages being blown off the bridge, another three were derailed and went up in flames.

Passenger Dejan Petkovic, 19, from Nis in central Serbia, suffered only minor injuries. He described hearing a plane nearby and then a single tremendous explosion. Dragan Ciric, 31, also from Nis, said he scrambled through the window just before his carriage became a ball of fire.

Teams of rescue workers struggled for hours to reach the remote scene.

Pointing to burned clothes and human remains, one angry onlooker said: "Show this to Clinton.

"I wish they could feel like we feel now standing here and watching this and inhaling the smell of burned human flesh."

The train accident marred a day of non-stop NATO bombing raids.

Targets blasted in the early hours included an oil refinery, an army airfield near Belgrade, and an arms factory.

Missiles set the refinery on fire, sending flames spurting high into the night sky.

It was the second attack in a week on the Pancevo refinery, whose destruction is considered vital to bringing the Serb war machine to a halt.

Shortly afterwards, the Batajnica military airfield 10 miles south of the capital was also blasted.

It is a major base and repair centre for Yugoslavia's Soviet-made MiG-21 and MiG-29 jet fighters.

News of the latest strikes came as the RAF revealed they were turningtheir back on high-tech weapon s in a bid to beat the bad weather that has hampered the bombing campaign.

Yesterday, Harrier GR7s pounded a Serb command and control centre and a fuel storage depot in Kosovo using old-fashioned "free-fall" bombs.

Group Captain Glenn Edge said at least eight of the pounds 20million jets, launched from Gioia del Colle in southern Italy, successfully dropped all their bombs.

The change of tack comes after Harrier raids were halted for seven days by cloud cover which jammed the laser targeting systems that guide their bombs.

Now they have switched to 1000lb general-purpose bombs fitted with old-fashioned tail-fins. Pilots are guided by an on-board computer.

Group Captain Edge said no extra risks to civilian lives were being taken.

"We are only doing this because of our confidence in the accuracy of the weapons and the nature of the targets," he added.

Last night, NATO said the pounding would continue despite the bridge tragedy.

Spokesman Jamie Shea said the bridge was attacked because it was a military supply line.

He said the Allies had taken "extraordinary measures to avoid collateral casualties".

Yugoslav railways director Svetolik Kostadinovic said the train had been on its way from Belgrade to Salonika in Greece.

He claimed a number of foreigners were on board.

Meanwhile, the Yugoslav state news agency claimed Serb soldiers killed 150 Kosovo Liberation Army members in a border shoot-out.

They said it happened when the rebels tried to enter from Albania.
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Author:Smith, Steve
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Apr 13, 1999
Words:637
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