UN Tribunal plays down its scrutiny of Nato acts


December 30, 1999

PRAGUE, Dec. 29 -- Officials of the tribunal investigating war crimes in the Balkans said today that a study of possible Western crimes in the recent Kosovo war is a preliminary, internal document that is highly unlikely to produce indictments or even be published.

The officials were quick to play down the importance of the study, which was requested in August by the United Nations' chief prosecutor at the time, Louise Arbour. The report, which was completed last week by the tribunal's senior legal adviser, will be studied over the holidays by the current chief prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, the officials said.

The existence of the study was reported on Sunday by the British newspaper The Observer in an interview with Mrs. Del Ponte. But Mrs. Del Ponte emphasized that the tribunal had more pressing tasks than prosecuting the Western leaders who have been most supportive of the tribunal, including the extension of current indictments of President Slobodan Milosevic of Yugoslavia and four of his top associates to possibly include charges of genocide.

"It's not my priority, because I have inquiries about genocide, about bodies in mass graves," she told the paper.

The tribunal's spokesman, Paul Risley, said in a telephone interview today that the study was an appropriate response to public concerns about NATO's tactics. "It is very important for this tribunal to assert its authority over any and all parties to the armed conflict within the former Yugoslavia," he said.

Mr. Milosevic has not been indicted for actions in Bosnia, however, leading to criticism from Belgrade, Moscow, Beijing and elsewhere that the tribunal has bent to pressure from the United States to bring an indictment over Kosovo. But tribunal officials say that Washington in particular has been reluctant to hand over relevant intelligence about Bosnia that touched Mr. Milosevic or the late Croatian president, Franjo Tudjman.

The tribunal can charge only individuals with crimes, not states, institutions or organizations.

The preliminary report is understood to be a legal analysis of the basis for bringing charges of war crimes for NATO activities like the bombing of civilian power stations and bridges, which NATO said had military uses. The report also examines the wide use of cluster munitions, which NATO said were being used only against airfields and other military targets, but some of which fell into populated areas, like the grounds of a hospital in the center of Nis, in central Serbia. The study looks at the history of such weapons and how they have been used in previous wars.

As an internal document, it will not be released to the public, Mr. Risley said. If Mrs. Del Ponte decides to take no further action, the document will be filed for later historians. If she decides to order work on preparing indictments of individuals, the document would simply provide useful background.

The tribunal currently relies on NATO troops in Bosnia to capture and hand over those charged with war crimes who still live there, and Mrs. Del Ponte has pushed NATO governments to do more to capture notable figures like Radovan Karadzic, the former Bosnian Serb leader, who is said by Western officials to move between Montenegro and the Foca area of Bosnia, and Gen. Ratko Mladic, the former Bosnian Serb military commander, who is thought to live in Serbia.


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