In the Shadows of War

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NATO says it is doing its best to concentrate its fire on Serb military units in Kosovo, and yet reports are trickling out of its capital, Pristina, of large numbers of ethnic Albanian civilians whose homes, limbs and loved ones have been blown away by alliance munitions. Throughout Yugoslavia and even beyond its borders, weapons deemed "smart" and "precision-guided" have veered off target, destroying property and lives. On Monday -- only a day after NATO apologized for a Saturday air strike that killed 47 people on a civilian bus in Kosovo -- it was reported from Montenegro that the alliance had inadvertently bombed a second civilian bus, allegedly killing a further 17 people.

War is a barbaric business, no matter how sophisticated the technology or how noble the cause. But since the Gulf War, TV audiences have been conditioned to expect military conflict to be a "surgical" process, in which the bad guys are zapped off video screens at the push of a button. As in a game of Doom, the videos shown during NATO media briefings give no sense of the shattered bones and ripped flesh that follow when the bomb camera image turns to fuzz. And not surprisingly, the alliance prefers not to show any footage from the bombs that may have strayed from their targets.

NATO is in an invidious position: While everyone expects Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic to lie about what he's up to in Kosovo, there's a heavy onus on the fighters of the good fight to come clean when they mess up. And when they're evasive or even just slow about taking responsibility, their credibility is damaged. But for all of NATO's assurances that it is taking the utmost care to target the Serb military needle in the haystack of innocents, the reality is that Kosovo remains densely populated with civilians -- the majority of them still ethnic Albanian -- and the savagery of marauding Serb paramilitaries isn't the only danger they face.

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