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Sunday, May 2, 1999 Published at 05:51 GMT 06:51 UK

World: Europe

Serbs down second Nato jet

American F-16s have been flying from Aviano in Italy since the start of the campaign

Nato has confirmed that the Serbs shot down an American F-16 over western Serbia.

Kosovo: Special Report
The plane was hit during air raids early on Sunday morning.

The pilot was rescued by allied forces after he ejected in an area near the Croatian border, and was taken to a Nato base for a medical examination.

The F-16 is the second plane downed by the Serbs since Nato started its air attacks more than six weeks ago. The first was an F-117 Stealth fighter on 27 March.

Nato has also admitted that one of its aircraft attacked a bridge in Kosovo and hit a civilian bus carrying dozens of passengers.

The alliance said early on Sunday that it had fired on the bridge and accidently hit the bus.

Nato strikes in Kosovo continued while the US civil rights leader, Reverend Jesse Jackson, reported that he had secured the release of American soldiers captured by Serb forces a month ago.

The Yugoslav state news agency, Tanjug, reported that 40 people died in the attack on the bridge.

A journalist for the French news agency, AFP, who visited the site, said 24 people appeared to have been killed.

The Nato statement said it targeted the Luzane bridge as a "key north-south supply route for Yugoslav military and special police".

The statement says "unfortunately, after weapon release a bus crossed the bridge".

'Ambulance hit'

The bus, on a regular passsenger service between Pristina and Nis, was cut in two by a missile as it approached a bridge near Luzane, 20km (12 miles) north of Pristina.

One section plunged off the bridge onto fields below. The other portion remained burning on the bridge for more than an hour.

Passengers' belongings were strewn along the road and riverside.

Tanjug reported that an ambulance sent to the scene was hit in a second Nato strike.

Reports of the bus being hit began circulating as Nato briefed reporters in Brussels on its latest missions on Saturday afternoon.

(Click here to see a map of recent Nato strikes)

At that time spokesman Colonel Konrad Freytag said the alliance had no immediate "evidence" regarding the incident.

Col Freytag said the alliance had attacked transmission towers and control buildings of the Yugoslav radio relay network in seven places.

Nato's air attacks continued on Saturday night and early Sunday. Serbian media reported raids at

  • Sombor airport in the north
  • Novi Sad oil refinery
  • a factory in the central town of Cacak.
There were also reports of attacks in Vitanovic, Nis and Krusevac.

PoWs 'being freed Sunday'

Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic has ordered the release of the three United States soldiers held in Yugoslavia.

Rev Jackson expects the three captured American soldiers soldiers to be handed over on Sunday and their families have been told to prepare to fly to Germany for a reunion.

[ image: Rev Jackson: A
Rev Jackson: A "moral appeal"
"I thank him from the bottom of my heart because he said he was determined to go there", said Rosie Gonzalez, mother of one of the captured Americans.

Rev Jackson travelled to Belgrade with a delegation of religious leaders to plead for the soldiers' release.

Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon said it had not received any confirmation of the impending release, but said that if the men were freed, they would be taken to Ramstein base, in Germany, for debriefing.

Tanjug reported: "The president took the decision in support of Jesse Jackson's peace efforts.

"We do not see [the soldiers] as enemies but victims of war and miltarism."

The three, Staff Sergeant Christopher Stone, Staff Sergeant Andrew Ramirez, and Specialist Corporal Steven Gonzalez had been stationed in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Maceonia when they were captured a month ago on the Yugoslav border.

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