Hillary Clinton calls Bosnia sniper story a mistake

GREENSBURG, Pennsylvania Tue Mar 25, 2008 8:01pm EDT

Democratic presidential candidate Senator Hillary Clinton speaks during a campaign event at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, March 24, 2008. REUTERS/Tim Shaffer

Democratic presidential candidate Senator Hillary Clinton speaks during a campaign event at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, March 24, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Tim Shaffer

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GREENSBURG, Pennsylvania (Reuters) - Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said on Tuesday she made a mistake when she claimed she had come under sniper fire during a trip to Bosnia in 1996 while she was first lady.

In a speech in Washington and in several interviews last week Clinton described how she and her daughter, Chelsea, ran for cover under hostile fire shortly after her plane landed in Tuzla, Bosnia.

Several news outlets disputed the claim and a video of the trip, showed Clinton walking from the plane, accompanied by her daughter. They were greeted by a young girl in a small ceremony on the tarmac and there was no sign of tension or any danger.

"I did make a mistake in talking about it, you know, the last time and recently," Clinton told reporters in Pennsylvania where she was campaigning before the state's April 22 primary. She said she had a "different memory" about the landing.

"So I made a mistake. That happens. It proves I'm human, which, you know, for some people, is a revelation."

"This is really about what policy experience we have and who's ready to be commander in chief. And I'm happy to put my experience up against Senator Obama's any day."

Democratic rival Barack Obama's campaign accused Clinton, a New York senator, of mischaracterizing the Bosnia trip and overstating her foreign policy experience, particularly during the eight years when her husband, Bill Clinton, was president.

In a speech in Washington on March 17 Clinton said of the Bosnia trip: "I remember landing under sniper fire. There was supposed to be some kind of greeting ceremony at the airport, but instead we just ran with our heads down to get into the vehicles to get to our base."

She also told CNN last week: "There was no greeting ceremony and we were basically told to run to our cars. Now that is what happened."

Turning to a subject that has dogged Obama, Clinton said she would not have remained a member of his Chicago church where the pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, made inflammatory comments about racism and the September 11, 2001 attacks.

"We don't have a choice when it comes to our relatives. We have a choice when it comes to our pastors and the churches we attend," she said. "Given all we have heard and seen, he would not have been my pastor."

Clinton had previously deflected questions about the topic, saying they should be posed to Obama, who gave an emotional speech last week rejecting Wright's remarks and urging Americans to move past their "racial stalemate."

A spokesman for Obama, a senator from Illinois, said Clinton was simply trying to change the subject from the Bosnia story.

"After originally refusing to play politics with this issue, it's disappointing to see Hillary Clinton's campaign sink to this low in a transparent effort to distract attention away from the story she made up about dodging sniper fire in Bosnia," spokesman Bill Burton said in a statement.

"The truth is, Barack Obama has already spoken out against his pastor's offensive comments and addressed the issue of race in America with a deeply personal and uncommonly honest speech."

Wright, who retired recently, has railed that the September 11 attacks were retribution for aggressive U.S. foreign policy, called the government the source of the AIDS virus and expressed anger over what he called racist America.

(Editing by Chris Wilson)

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