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Thursday, April 1, 1999 Published at 15:43 GMT 16:43 UK

World: Europe

Serbs capture US soldiers

The three US soldiers bore some signs of injury

 Click here for live coverage on the crisis

Three United States soldiers have been captured by Serbian troops.

Kosovo: Special Report
A US military spokesman confirmed the capture, after Serbian television broadcast footage of the three men.

The three soldiers went missing in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, close to the border with Serbia.

The BBC's Bridget Kendall : 'It was exactly what Nato had been dreading'
The TV report, quoting the Yugoslav army, said the men had been captured on Yugoslav territory.

Nato says the soldiers were involved in a routine patrol along the Macedonia-Yugoslavia border.

Important bridge bombed

News of the capture follows an intensified air assault against Yugoslavia by the Allied forces on Wednesday night.

A road bridge over the Danube has become the first major civilian target to be hit by Nato.

The bridge in the town of Novi Sad was an important transport link between Belgrade and northern Serbia.

Yugoslav Deputy Prime Minister Vuk Draskovic : "Nothing wrong could happen to the captives"
A spokesman said Nato's Secretary-General Javier Solana had told the military to "extend the range and tempo of operations to maximise the effectiveness of the campaign".

The Yugoslav news agency, Tanjug, also reported several explosions in Kosovo's capital, Pristina, but said Belgrade was quiet.

Refugee exodus

[ image: Kosovo refugees are still massing at Macedonia's border]
Kosovo refugees are still massing at Macedonia's border
Thousands of refugees are continuing to flee Kosovo amid reports that civilians in Kosovo could face starvation within 10 days.

The head of the United Nations World Food Programme, Catherine Bertini, said her organisation had no way of reaching them, and air drops had been rejected as too dangerous.

Nick Childs reports: "This is a public relations rather than a military set back"
United Nations officials said 11,000 had crossed the border into Albania within 24 hours, bringing the total influx there to nearly 100,000.

US President Bill Clinton has authorised $50m in emergency relief.

Several European countries have also pledged aid.

Foreign ministers from several central European and Balkan countries are due to meet in Germany to discuss co-ordinating assistance to the refugees.

Serbs name captives

Jonathan Charles: "Bridge was an important transit route"
Serbian TV gave the names of the three captured men, transliterated into Cyrillic, as Stephen Gonzales, Andrew Ramirez and James Stone.

The three had "put up resistance" during their capture, the report said.

The TV images show some signs of physical injury.

The soldiers will "face justice according to normal democratic procedures", Yugoslav Deputy Prime Minister Vuk Draskovic told the BBC.

He described the men as "aggressors", but gave assurances they would be treated in compliance with the Geneva Convention on prisoners-of-war.

The missing soldiers had reported coming under small arms fire and being surrounded while carrying out a daytime reconnaissance mission in the Kumanovo area of Macedonia, Nato says.

They radioed for help between 1430 (1230 GMT) and 1500 local time, the Pentagon said, but their colleagues failed to locate them.

The soldiers were one of several army units guarding the Yugoslav-Macedonia border during Nato's air attacks against Yugoslavia.

BBC Defence Correspondent Mark Laity says the capture is a propoganda coup for the Serbs, and an embarrassment for Nato.

He says questions are bound to be asked about what the men's vehicle was doing out of sight of other troops, so close to one of the most dangerous borders in Europe.

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