Survivors forgive NATO pilot in errant attack on civilians

Anger is directed at Serbs for creating fatal situation

April 17, 1999|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

KUKES, Albania -- Rokman Bajrami has a message for the NATO pilot who may have bombed her and other fleeing refugees near Dakovica, Kosovo, this week: He is forgiven and welcome to visit her tent -- even though the errant airstrikes killed her son.

"If that pilot killed my son, I excuse him," said the mother of seven from Dakovica now living in a crowded refugee camp just across the Kosovo border. "I feel sorry for my son, but now I feel sorry for this pilot, too."

One might expect Kosovo refugees' confidence in the U.S.-led air campaign to have dipped after NATO officials acknowledged that one of their planes attacked a convoy, killing the very people the military operation was designed to assist.

But those in the targeted convoy who were interviewed Friday in refugee camps and hospital rooms -- including some like Bajrami who watched family members die -- said Serbia is responsible for their misery, even if it was one of NATO's bombs that dropped from the sky on them.

Bajrami's eyes welled up with tears when she recounted the plane swooping over them, the bombs falling on both sides of the convoy and then the deadly direct hit. But Bajrami, 64, said that horrifying day was just one of many she and her family have endured in recent weeks. Her future, she said, remains in the hands of NATO.

Another woman who had been in the same convoy leaned up from her bed in Kukes' municipal hospital to say she has no grudge against NATO either.

"If NATO did it by mistake, God will forgive them," said Rrushe Gjota, 46, a refugee from Kosovo. "If Serbs did it, I'll never forgive them."

Another survivor, Rexhed Morina, 63, insisted that it was a Serbian airplane that dropped the explosives on the long trail of tractors stretched out on the road.

He dismissed the apologetic account given by the still-unnamed NATO pilot in which he took responsibility for the attack on one civilian convoy.

"His apology cannot be accepted," Morina said. "He shouldn't be apologizing for what he didn't do. The Serbs bombed us so they could say it was a NATO mistake."

But Morina said that if NATO did do it, he accepted the bombing as an unintended consequence of a military campaign aimed at giving them back their peaceful lives again.

"We have a tradition in our country that if someone kills by mistake, we forgive it," he said. "We also can excuse NATO if they did bomb the convoy."

Pub Date: 4/17/99

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