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U.S. soldier accidentally kills 5-year-old ethnic Albanian boy

SHARE U.S. soldier accidentally kills 5-year-old ethnic Albanian boy

CERKEZ SADOVINA, Yugoslavia (AP) — A 5-year-old ethnic Albanian boy was killed Monday when an American soldier's gun accidentally discharged as troops worked to repair the fence around an elementary school.

A witness said the soldier, whose name was not released, had been playing with about 30 children when the weapon fired three times, striking Gentrit Rexhepi in the chest and hand.

The boy ran screaming for about 10 yards and then collapsed, said Abdyselim Qosaj, 31. "The soldier involved ran toward the kid and started screaming and crying. Other soldiers ran to the scene."

The child was rushed to the U.S. base at Camp Bondsteel, located near the scene, where a U.S. statement said doctors tried to save his life. He was pronounced dead about an hour later.

The commander of the NATO-led peacekeeping force, Lt. Gen. Juan Ortuno, appeared on Kosovo television Monday evening to express deep regret for the death.

The commander of U.S. forces here, Brig. Gen. Randal M. Tieszen, was at the hospital while doctors operated.

"It's very sad what happened but I know it wasn't done on purpose," the victim's father, Deli Rexhepi, said. "It could have happened to anyone. I know the soldier was playing with the kids to help them remove their trauma" suffered during last year's Serb crackdown and the 78 days of NATO bombing.

Villagers said U.S. representatives visited the family twice to offer condolences.

NATO spokesman Maj. Scott Slaten said a preliminary investigation indicated the death was an accident. He said a full investigation had begun.