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ITALIAN OFFICIALS SAY RELIEF PLANE WAS SHOT DOWN

U.N. troops Friday removed the bodies of four Italian airmen from the wreckage of a relief plane, and Italian officials said the evidence indicated the aircraft was shot down by a missile.

Italy's defense minister, Salvo Ando, said in Rome that his government had not received official confirmation the plane was shot down, but that an attack was the most likely cause of the crash Thursday. He called it a "criminal action."The Pentagon reported that two of four U.S. helicopters sent to search for the plane Thursday were shot at by unknown forces but were not hit. But Friday, a spokesman said the helicopter pilots only saw muzzle flashes of small arms and were not certain the shots were aimed at the U.S. aircraft.

It was the first time U.S. helicopters sent to protect aid shipments had flown over war-torn Bosnia.

The Italian plane went down 21 miles west of Sarajevo while carrying 9 tons of relief supplies for this besieged city. The U.N.-organized international airlift was suspended while the cause of the crash was investigated.

U.N. officials said witnesses on the ground reported seeing two missiles fired at the plane.

Peter Kessler, a U.N. refugee official in Zagreb, Croatia's capital, said the wreckage was strewn over an area a mile across, indicating there was "some kind of disintegration or explosion" in the air.

Izumi Nakamitsu, chief of the U.N. refugee operation in Sarajevo, said U.N. troops found a hole in the fuselage of the wrecked plane and pieces of what could be an anti-aircraft missile.

But U.N. officials stressed they did not have positive proof that the plane had been shot down. "We will not know the full story until there is a full and thorough investigation," Nakamitsu said.

The crash came on a day that brought at least one encouraging sign: a U.N. relief convoy carrying nearly 100 tons of food and medicine safely reached the embattled city of Gorazde, southeast of Sarajevo. The convoy returned safely to Sarajevo Friday, delayed overnight by mined roads.

The convoy was delayed on the way to Gorazde when Serb fighters commandeered two trucks of food, which were later returned empty, an AP photographer with the convoy said.

Mortar shells fell on the Bosnian capital late Thursday and this morning, breaking a two-day lull in shelling.

Marrack Goulding, U.N. undersecretary-general for peacekeeping, said Thursday there were no signs of Serb fighters turning heavy weapons over for U.N. supervision as their leader promised Wednesday.

A reporter for BBC-TV, Kate Adie, was injured slightly when her armored car came under fire Friday on Sarajevo's notorious airport road, a BBC spokesman in London said. A metal splinter from one of about five bullets that hit the car struck her boot, bruising her right foot.

Scores of journalists have been hurt in the last year covering fighting in former Yugoslavia. Nearly 30 have been killed, including David Kaplan, a producer for veteran ABC news correspondent Sam Donaldson, who was shot by a sniper in Sarajevo.

More than 8,000 people have died and tens of thousands are missing in Bosnia's civil war.

Serb forces have seized about 70 percent of the country since fighting erupted after majority Muslims and Croats voted for independence Feb. 29.

The crash of the Italian twin-engine turboprop was the first involving the airlift.

Nakamitsu said the U.N. search team found the bodies of the plane's crew early Friday in the hard-scrabble countryside of western Bosnia.

It is unclear who controls the territory from which a missile would have been fired. There are scattered Serb positions, but most of the area is controlled by Croats, Muslims or a combination.

Nakamitsu said the circumstances surrounding the crash were suspicious because the plane suddenly disappeared with no radio contact from the crew.

In other developments:

-A U.N. conference on humanitarian aid for refugees in former Yugoslavia opened Friday with an appeal for $434 million in international contributions. U.N. refugee officials warned that the $194 million earmarked for Bosnia was far short of what is needed to provide shelter and food during the coming winter.

-Milan Panic, the Serbian-born American businessman who is Yugoslavia's prime minister, faced a no-confidence vote in the federal Parliament Friday. Panic angered Serb nationalists last week by offering to recognize all former Yugoslav republics within their original borders.