Serbs to charge Western leaders with war crimes

BELGRADE, May 21, 2000 -- (Reuters) Serbia's public prosecutor said on Saturday charges would shortly be filed against Western leaders accusing them of committing war crimes against the civilian population during last year's NATO air war.

"Charges will be filed in the coming days against leading figures of the most responsible NATO countries for war crimes against the civilian population committed in Yugoslavia during the March 24 to June 8 aggression last year," the state news agency Tanjug quoted prosecutor Dragisa Krsmanovic as saying.

The list of the accused includes U.S. President Bill Clinton, former NATO Secretary General Javier Solana and leaders of Britain, France and Germany.

An investigation against Western leaders was opened last year. The accusations included violation of the Geneva convention on the conduct of war by using cluster bombs, attacks on civilians and residential areas and attacks on non-military targets.

The president of Serbia's Supreme Court, Balsa Govedarica, said "trials of the organizers of the aggression against Yugoslavia, given their specific nature which will certainly provoke a lot of public attention, would be conducted before a court made up of judges from the entire republic."

NATO, which launched the air strikes over Yugoslavia's repression of Kosovo's Albanians, insisted throughout the campaign it was aiming only at military targets and said it took all possible precautions to avoid civilian casualties.

When the Washington-based Human Rights Watch said in February 500 civilians had been killed by the air strikes, NATO said its report constituted legitimate criticism but that NATO's its actions could not be compared with Serb violence in Kosovo.

The UN's International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia (ICTY) indicted Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and four other top Yugoslav Serb officials last year for alleged war crimes in Kosovo.

Krsmanovic said Yugoslavia did not recognize the UN court based in The Hague.

He also said an investigation was being conducted against Bernard Kouchner, head of the U.N.-led administration in Kosovo, and ethnic Albanian leaders Hasim Thaqi and Agim Ceku for alleged genocide against Serbs and other non-Albanians.

NATO-led forces and the United Nations took de facto control of Kosovo last June after Yugoslav security forces pulled out of the province.

Over 200,000 Serbs and other minorities have fled Kosovo since then, fearing revenge attacks by the ethnic Albanian majority which suffered years of Serbian repression.

Yugoslavia has accused international forces of not fulfilling its task to protect the entire Kosovo population.

Original article