The Nando Times - UN prosecutor investigating Nato's conduct in YU bombing campaign


THE HAGUE, Netherlands (December 28, 1999) - The U.N. chief war crimes prosecutor is currently reviewing the conduct of NATO pilots and their commanders during last spring's 78-day bombing campaign against Yugoslavia, her spokesman said Tuesday.

Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte's staff compiled a report on the airstrikes at the urging of several "interested parties," including a group of Russian parliamentarians and a renowned Canadian law professor, said the spokesman, Paul Risley.

The war crimes tribunal, set up in 1993 by the U.N. Security Council, cannot indict governments or international organizations.

But if Del Ponte chooses to press charges against any individual as a result of the report, it would be a landmark in global justice - and a highly controversial one. Never has a Western leader or military figure been hauled before an international tribunal.

The NATO alliance launched the bombing campaign in March to force Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to halt his crackdown against ethnic Albanians in the rebellious southern province of Kosovo.

The contents of the tribunal's report are confidential. However, NATO has been criticized for civilian deaths in what it has described as mishaps, including the bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade and a strike against a railroad bridge as a passenger train was crossing it.

NATO spokesman Jamie Shea refused to comment on the investigation, saying the organization hasn't been formally notified of it.

Pursuing NATO's conduct would go far in dispelling the belief - prevalent in the Balkans - that the tribunal is a tool used cynically by Western leaders to escape accountability.

But even if evidence of violations of international conventions on warfare were found, it is highly questionable whether the former Swiss federal prosecutor would go so far as to issue any indictments.

The handling of the report is of utmost sensitivity for the tribunal, which depends on the military alliance to arrest and hand over suspects. NATO peacekeepers in the Balkans have detained around half of the 34 suspects currently in custody.

Del Ponte alluded to this dilemma when a reporter for The Observer newspaper in London asked her whether she would be prepared to press charges if the investigation turned up incriminating evidence.

"If I am not willing to do that, I am not in the right place: I must give up the mission," she said in the interview, published last weekend.

But she was quick to stress that other investigations would take precedence over any NATO probe, saying: "It's not my priority, because I have inquiries about genocide, about bodies in mass graves.",2107,500147561-500178250-500713046-0,00.html

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