White House blasts idea of war crimes probe into Nato actions
WASHINGTON (December 30, 1999) - The White House is denouncing as "completely unjustified" the idea of a United Nations inquiry into possible war crimes by NATO pilots and commanders during this year's bombing campaign in Yugoslavia.
Last week, the U.N. war crimes tribunal completed an internal study of NATO actions during the 78-day campaign. The study will be reviewed by the chief U.N. war crimes prosecutor, Carla del Ponte, who would decide whether charges should be pursued.
The tribunal's report is confidential, but NATO has been criticized for civilian deaths in what its spokesmen have described as accidents. They included the bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade and a strike against a railroad bridge as a passenger train crossed it.
White House spokesman Jim Fallin said NATO "fully followed the laws of armed conflict in training, targeting and operations" in Kosovo and took pains in selecting targets to guard against harming civilians.
"NATO undertook extraordinary efforts to minimize collateral damage," Fallin said. "Any inquiry into the conduct of its pilots would be completely unjustified."
The U.N. Security Council established the war crimes tribunal in 1993 to deal with war crimes in the Balkan wars that followed the breakup of Yugoslavia. Its rules bar indictment of governments or international organizations. No Western leader or military figure has ever been brought before such a tribunal.
The NATO alliance launched a bombing campaign against Yugoslavia in March to force President Slobodan Milosevic to stop his crackdown against ethnic Albanians in the rebellious southern province of Kosovo.
"The real issue, as the tribunal concluded last May, is that Slobodan Milosevic and his top associates deserve to be indicted and should stand trial for crimes against humanity," Fallin said.
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