Belgrade war crimes tribunal accuses the West

BELGRADE, Mar 30, 2000 -- (Reuters) A Russian-led tribunal sought to turn the tables on the West in Belgrade on Wednesday by accusing NATO leaders of war crimes during last year's air strikes.

The tribunal, made up mainly of Communist sympathizers from the former East bloc, convened in the Yugoslav capital for a hearing on the 78-day bombing, launched over Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's repression of Kosovo's Albanians.

Its list of accused included U.S. President Bill Clinton, NATO Secretary General Javier Solana and leaders of Britain, France and Germany.

Carla del Ponte, chief prosecutor of the United Nations war crimes tribunal in The Hague, was also called upon, to observe.

"We had no replies," Mikhail Kuznetsov, a Russian lawyer who presided over the tribunal, told the audience in the Sava congress center in Belgrade.

After two days of debates, including witness testimony and speeches from around a dozen jurists, mainly from Russia but also from Bulgaria, Ukraine, Afghanistan, Poland and Germany, the tribunal came out with its verdict on Wednesday afternoon.


It said the accused had launched the bombing without declaring war and with no legal basis, and alleged it had deliberately targeted civilians, including children.

Listing a string of United Nations conventions it said NATO had violated, it demanded a criminal investigation of the accused and added that its conclusions would be sent to the United Nations and The Hague tribunal.

It also called for the disbanding of NATO, the dismissal of UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and asked the countries involved to put their military and political leaders on trial.

The jurists were not optimistic their demands would be met.

"Our tribunal may be small but it represents heartfelt support for the people of Yugoslavia," Kuznetsov said.

NATO insisted throughout the air strikes that it was aiming only at military targets and took all possible precautions to avoid civilian casualties.

When the Washington-based Human Rights Watch said last month 500 civilians were killed by the air strikes, NATO said its report constituted legitimate criticism but that its actions could not be compared with Serb violence in the province.

Some of the Belgrade tribunal's charges echo those leveled by the West against Milosevic, indicted by the Hague tribunal last May for war crimes in Kosovo along with four close aides.

Opponents of Milosevic in Serbia said the composition and nature of the hearing, at which there was no cross-examination and the verdict was a foregone conclusion, only served to help NATO dismiss awkward questions about the bombing.

"Anyone who was here during the air strikes knows civilians were killed," Sonia Drobac an editor at the Glas Javnosti daily, told independent Belgrade radio B292.

"But this is a farce."

Original article