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More NATO madness - Bombs hit Albania

Times Newspapers -
June 2 1999

Madness of war drops in for day on the border


NATO A10 "tank buster" aircraft caused havoc in Northern Albania yesterday when they mistakenly made two bombing runs along the road leading to the Morine border crossing. The attack endangered journalists and border guards already bemused by allied raids there the previous evening.

As the local population fled, the Albanian Army fired at the sky in a gesture of hopeless anger against an alliance in which until then they had put their blind faith. An Albanian working for ITN said he had dived for cover after hearing the whoosh of jets and seeing flashes of flame and mud 60 metres before his eyes.

All the worst fears of Enver Hoxha, the late Albanian dictator, came true as his country was attacked by the West and by the Serbs. There were bits of concrete bunker everywhere, and few places to hide. It was surprising that no one was hurt.

It was a day of insufferable, maddening heat. Donkeys brayed and dogs scratched for shelter as the American planes circled overhead, their characteristic rotary machineguns roaring. Below them, in the ploughed fields and craters of the Morine border crossing, the international press corps scavenged for bomb fragments that could explain the strangest chapter of the war so far. Most of them were soon running for cover. A monitor for the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe dashed up and down in his Land Rover Discovery, its rear filled by bits of Katyusha rocket - evidence, he said, that this was all the work of the Serbs.

"My private opinion is that this was not the Americans," he announced in a French accent, pointing to an overturned Hoxha-era bunker where he said he had found the rocket.

Flak-jacketed correspondents gathered round, angrily brandishing evidence to the contrary - fragments of Nato laser-guided bombs. "We're not quoting that idiot," said one cameraman, in disgust.

Slowly, the anecdotes were pieced together. The sum of their part was not completely convincing, but where the century's most high-tech war is taking place over Europe's most distinctly low-tech people, answers are always going to be open to interpretation.

"The lights were so strong, and my whole house shook," said Aferdita Rexha, who has the singular misfortune to live within 200 yards of a border crossing now contested by Nato and the Albanian, Yugoslav and Kosovo Liberation Army forces. Her veiled face still creased by fear, she showed us where the first blast, which came at about sundown on Monday night, had blown out all her ground-floor windows. "Some say it was Nato, others say it was the Serbs," she added, explaining how she had fallen, then gathered her wits, grabbed her son Edison and run for a bunker in the hills above.

Another resident, Ylber Syla, said a plane circled for about two hours at roughly the same time, before roaring up the Morine valley towards Kosovo, firing rockets or bombs.

A camera crew found a bomb fragment marked "Oscilator, Vectron Laboratories, Norwalk, Conn," which did not sound very Serbian. Then someone made a satellite telephone call and found the fragment could be part of a Maverick missile, widely used by Nato, but also sold to the Serbs a few years ago.

Most arguments were rendered academic when more bombs rained down in the early afternoon, confirming that Nato had Albania in its sights.

High in the mountain 3,000 feet above, the Kosovo Liberation Army machinegunned Serb positions. Then came the whoomph and crash of Yugoslav army tank shells.

Our taxi driver set off back to Kukes, whether we liked it or not. He thrust Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here into his cassette recorder and headed over roads rutted by tank tracks for safer places - and some sanity.

[33]Copyright 1999 Times Newspapers Ltd. This service is provided on Times Newspapers' [34]standard terms and conditions.

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