Nato under fire for choice of targets in Kosovo

Richard Norton-Taylor

Friday January 7, 2000

Nato's conduct of the Kosovo conflict breached international law, according to a leading human rights group which is drawing up detailed reports to be submitted to the war crimes tribunal in the Hague.

Human Rights Watch, a New York based organisation, will accuse Nato of deliberately bombing Serbia's civil infrastructure. It will strongly criticise the use of cluster bombs and allege that Nato bombs killed significantly more civilians than the number claimed by the alliance.

Targets chosen by Nato were "disproportionate and should be found violations of international humanitarian law", Kenneth Roth, the group's executive director, said yesterday. Electricity grids, oil refineries and radio and television stations are among the examples.

The report will also attack the use by US and British aircraft of thousands of cluster bombs, many of which lie unexploded in Kosovo, where the group says they are still killing or maiming two civilians a day. Their failure rate is officially admitted to be at least 5%.

Human Rights Watch estimates that about 600 Serbian civilians were killed by Nato bombing, three times as many as the Pentagon has admitted but substantially fewer than the 2,000 claimed by Belgrade.

Though the group does not expect any Nato leader to be charged with a criminal offence, the Hague tribunal is obliged to scrutinise all relevant submissions.

"It is incumbent on the tribunal to continue its mandate, which covers all the participants in armed conflict in the former Yugoslavia," Paul Risley, spokesman for the chief war crimes prosecutor, Carla del Ponte, said yesterday.

But he made clear that a formal investigation into Nato actions during the Kosovo conflict was unlikely.

The tribunal has already been caught up in a controversy over a separate dossier sent to it last year by group of international lawyers led by Michael Mandel, a law professor at York university in Toronto, Canada.

The dossier accused Nato of "grave violations of international humanitarian law", including "wilful killing". It referred to civilian deaths from Nato bombing raids, including the mistaken attack on a hospital in Nis in central Serbia.

"This is a historic opportunity to demonstrate the even-handedness of international justice," Professor Mandel said after delivering the dossier last year.

Other international lawyers argued that such statements could be counter-productive and place the tribunal in an untenable position. "The even-handedness we expect of the chief prosecutor does not mean treating allegations equally," Diane Orentlicher, director of the war crimes research office at the American university in Washington, said yesterday.

She told the Guardian that while "problematic aspects" of Nato's conduct merited examination, it was "plainly inappropriate for Del Ponte to focus on shortcomings in Nato's performance when the tribunal can scarcely begin to address the atrocious crimes it was created to prosecute".

The Pentagon argues that attacks on Serbian civil infrastructure hastened the end of the war and thus the Serbs' repression of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.

• Nato videos of its bombing of a passenger train on a bridge in Yugoslavia last spring show that it was travelling at three times the normal speed, bolstering the impression that hitting the train was unavoidable, the German newspaper Frankfurter Rundschau reported yesterday.

Nato officials said at the time that the train appeared on the bridge so fast that there was no time to redirect the missiles. At least 14 people were killed in the air strike near the Serb town of Grdelicka on April 12.,3604,119640,00.html

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