Human rights watchdog says Milosevic responsible for war crimes

Friday, October 26th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

PRISTINA, Yugoslavia (AP) _ A U.S.-based human rights group claimed Friday that it had collected detailed evidence to prove that former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and his associates had engineered a campaign of terror in Kosovo.

Human Rights Watch's 593-page report _ ``Under Orders: War Crimes in Kosovo'' _ concluded that Milosevic's campaign to crack down on ethnic Albanian separatists ``was clearly coordinated from the top.''

The report also said that some of those allegedly involved still hold important positions in Yugoslavia. It singled out three officials who now hold public office in Yugoslavia as having taken part in Milosevic's campaign. They are Gen. Nebojsa Pavkovic, the country's top general; Sreten Lukic, a senior Serb police official; and Milan Milutinovic, the president of Serbia.

``The extent and the systematic nature of the abuses in Kosovo make it impossible that the Serbian and Yugoslav leadership were unaware of those violations, despite their public denials,'' the report said. ``On the contrary, the postwar period saw hundreds of promotions and awards.''

The release of the report comes only three days before Milosevic is expected to face a hearing before the U.N. war crimes court in The Hague, Netherlands. The group hopes the report will add to the body of evidence against Milosevic and his coconspirators.

The report, based on a decade of research, included detailed case studies in dozens of villages, a statistical analysis of the abuses, photographs of alleged perpetrators and a strategic overview of the Belgrade government's offensive.

It also documents violations of human rights allegedly committed by the Kosovo Liberation Army. The report accuses NATO of violations as well.

``It's a full picture story,'' said Fred Abrahams, the senior researcher of the organization.

Researchers charged that attacks came in three distinct waves, suggesting that the slayings of as many as 10,000 people were not the result of random violence by government forces. Rather, ``they were carefully planned and implemented operations that fit into Belgrade's government's strategic aims,'' the report said.

Witnesses and survivors described how Serb forces systematically burned homes, looted businesses, expelled civilians and murdered those suspected of participating or harboring the Kosovo Liberation Army. At some sites, witnesses reported that bodies were removed to conceal the crimes.

But the report said that the now disbanded KLA committed human rights abuses as well. Four cases are included in the report _ three during the war and one after the conflict.

The report also accuses NATO of committing human rights violations, too. It is said that the alliance ``failed to minimize civilian casualties'' during the bombing campaign against Yugoslavia.

The report also found fault with the U.N administration and NATO-led peacekeeping mission in Kosovo, saying that they failed to secure a safe environment for minorities in the aftermath of the war.

NATO-led peacekeepers and U.N. officials have run Kosovo since ousting Milosevic's forces following a 78-day air war in 1999.

``We feel that the accountability process on both sides in the conflict is absolutely imperative to halt the cycle of revenge and violence and move forward,'' said Elizabeth Andersen, the executive director of organization's European and Asian division.