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Refugee's tale: 'The MIG attacked twice'

By Jonathan S. LandayStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / April 19, 1999



KUKES, ALBANIA

Nato is trying to determine if Belgrade exploited the alliance's errant airstrike last week on a refugee column in Kosovo to stage any of its own for propaganda purposes. Bajram Citaku insists that it did.

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The farmer from Skenderaj says a Yugoslav MIG-21 jet dropped a bomb into a line of ethnic Albanians he was leading on a forced march to the Albanian border. Sixty-four people were killed and the bodies hauled away in vans by Serbian police, he says.

"The MIG-21 was flying about 200 meters above us," says Mr. Citaku. "On the tail was a Yugoslavian flag. It was red, white, and blue. On the body were three numbers in white, but I could not make them out. There was a star on the flag."

Asked how he knew it was a Soviet-designed MIG-21, he replies: "I worked at Belgrade airport for 10 years." He explained that between 1960 and 1970, he supervised the cleaning of the runways and saw MIG-21s on the military side of the facility.

Citaku was interviewed at a refugee camp in Kukes, where he arrived April 15, hours after the alleged staged bombing incident and NATO's errant attack. Serbian officials the next day showed to foreign journalists more than 60 bodies of people they claimed were killed by the NATO attack.

NATO has admitted it mistakenly bombed a civilian vehicle in a convoy in Kosovo in what it called "one tragic accident." The unidentified NATO pilot who led the strike reported making multiple passes to confirm his target, which he called "three uniformly shaped dark-green vehicles" and characterized as troop transports.

As Citaku described what he says happened in a separate incident, he referred to notes he jotted on three cardboard pieces that he had hidden in a boot so he could recount the details accurately once in Albania.

He says that because he speaks Serbian, Serbian police put him in charge of some 12,000 refugees who set out on a forced march from the village of Gledernice on April 13. At 1:45 p.m. on April 15, as they marched through Krusha, about eight miles northeast of Prizren, an aircraft streaked over the column.

At 1:55 p.m., he says, Serbian troops on a hill to the left of the column loosed three mortar rounds that crashed in a nearby field. "Maybe after a minute, they fired three more times," remembers Citaku, who believes the mortar fire was a ruse, staged to give the appearance of a military target inviting a NATO strike.

"The MIG-21 made two circles again over us and then attacked," he says. "The MIG attacked twice. The first bomb fell in a field, and there was not a strong explosion. The second was a direct hit on a tractor."

He says he counted the dead as their bodies were loaded five by five into vans and driven away. "I will swear to all of this before the [UN war crimes] court in The Hague," Citaku insists, his eyes misting over. "NATO had nothing to do with this. The Serbs created a pretext to blame NATO."

A US official, contacted in Washington, says NATO is taking such allegations seriously and investigating.