'Tribunal Nato accomplice'

BELGRADE, Jun 5, 2000 -- (Reuters) Yugoslavia called on the United Nations on Sunday to disband its war crimes tribunal, saying the body had become an accomplice of NATO by refusing to probe the alliance over its air campaign against Yugoslavia last year.

Information Minister Goran Matic urged UN Security Council ambassadors to wind up what he called an "illegal, illegitimate and biased body" and sack its prosecutor Carla del Ponte.

"I am astonished by Ms Del Ponte's statement that during last year's aggression against Yugoslavia NATO did not deliberately target civilian facilities and that it did not commit war crimes," Matic said in a letter to the envoys carried by state news agency Tanjug.

Del Ponte, chief prosecutor of the Hague-based tribunal, said on Friday she believed there were no grounds for opening an investigation into NATO's alleged war crimes, though she said the alliance had made mistakes.

Del Ponte made her decision after studying complaints against NATO from lawyers acting on behalf of Yugoslavia and a Russian parliamentary commission.

"With Carla del Ponte's speech in the Security Council the Tribunal has definitely sided with the aggressor and become an accomplice to NATO crimes against Yugoslavia," Matic said.

"I propose that (she) be relieved of duty at once and that the Hague tribunal be immediately disbanded, as an illegal, illegitimate and demonstrably biased judicial body."

On Saturday Russia criticized Del Ponte's decision, saying it showed the court was politically biased.

The Hague tribunal has indicted scores of people for war crimes committed in former Yugoslavia. A year ago it indicted Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and four other top Yugoslav officials for alleged war crimes in Kosovo.

NATO waged an 11-week bombing campaign against Yugoslavia last year to try to prevent repression of ethnic Albanians in Serbia's Kosovo province.

Matic said NATO had committed a series of crimes during the campaign, including the death of 16 people killed when Serbian state television was bombed on April 23 last year.

He also accused the tribunal of silence over crimes committed by ethnic Albanian extremists against Serbs and other minorities in Kosovo now administered by international forces.

Last month the Yugoslav justice minister lashed out at the court, saying Yugoslavia did not recognize it and would not agree to any Yugoslav citizen being extradited to it.

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