Britain yesterday denied a report that NATO deliberately bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade after the Western alliance discovered the mission was being used to transmit Yugoslav military communications.
The Observer newspaper quoted an unnamed intelligence officer as saying "NATO had been hunting the radio transmitters in Belgrade", including one at President Milosevic's house, during its air war against Yugoslavia.
"When the President's residence was bombed on April 23rd, the signals disappeared for 24 hours," said the NATO officer, who monitored Yugoslav broadcasts from neighbouring Macedonia. "When they came back on the air again, we discovered they came from the [Chinese] embassy compound."
The British Foreign Secretary, Mr Robin Cook, said there was no truth in the Observer's story.
"I know not a single shred of evidence to support this rather wild story," he told the BBC television interviewer Sir David Frost.
"The United States have been through their records exhaustively, in detail. They have done a full presentation to China and also to their allies.
"It was a tragic mistake. It was an error that should never have happened," he added.
An official at NATO headquarters in Brussels also denied the report, but it is likely to rekindle diplomatic tensions before a visit by the Chinese President, Mr Jiang Zemin, to Britain tomorrow.
The three cruise missiles that hit the mission on May 7th killed three Chinese and opened a diplomatic chasm between NATO and Beijing, which holds one of five permanent seats on the UN Security Council.
Senior US and NATO officials blamed the attack on a targeting error caused by outdated maps.
That explanation brought incredulity from Chinese leaders, and the bombing brought three days of government-backed protests against the US and British embassies in Beijing.
The Observer said it had been told by a NATO flight control officer in Naples that the Chinese mission was correctly located on a map of "non-targets". The Chinese embassy had been removed from the list after NATO electronic intelligence detected it was rebroadcasting Yugoslav army communications.
The Observer speculated the Chinese might have helped Mr Milosevic as a means of gaining access to radar-evading technology aboard a US F-117 Stealth bomber that went down in Yugoslavia in the first few days of NATO's air campaign.
"The Chinese were also suspected of monitoring the cruise missile attacks on Belgrade, with a view to developing effective countermeasures against US missiles," it said.