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Croatian rebel Serbs deny firing on NATO plane

By NATELA CUTTER

BELGRADE, March 9 -- Croatian rebel Serbs denied Wednesday that they had fired on a Spanish NATO plane forcing it to make an emergency landing at a Croatian airfield after four passengers were wounded and the plane suffered damage to its fuselage and tail section.

The midsize CASA-212 plane, with three Spanish crew members and five passengers aboard, was riddled with bullet holes Tuesday from seven anti-aircraft rounds while flying from the Croatian capital of Zagreb to the Adriatic port of Split.

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Four NATO personnel were slightly wounded in the incident by shrapnel and were flown to a NATO airbase in Vicenza, Italy for treatment.

Rebel Serbs, who have occupied a third of Croatia since the 1991 Serb-Croat war in 1991, denied having shot at the plane after Croatian military officials accused the Serbs of firing two Russian-made anti- aircraft rockets.

'Yesterday's flight was not announced (by NATO) nor was it seen over the Republic of Serbian Krajina,' said a statement issued by the military command of the self-styled Serbian state of Krajina.

The incident is currently being investigated by a joint NATO-United Nations team in an attempt to determine the source of the fire.

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NATO jet fighters have been patrolling the skies over Bosnia- Herzegovina to enforce a U.N. ban on all flights by any of the parties involved in the Bosnian war.

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