April 7, 1999
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The United States on Wednesday named nine top Serb commanders whose forces are believed to be conducting war crimes in Kosovo, warning them that they, as commanders, could be charged with crimes against humanity.
State Department spokesman James Rubin said the names were given to the International War Crimes Tribunal.
"These are the commanders, to the best of our knowledge, of the units that are in Kosovo," Rubin told reporters.
"We are not saying that these individuals are, to our knowledge, directly responsible for war crimes," Rubin said. "What we are doing is putting them on notice, warning them that we believe the (Serb) police forces and military forces are conducting war crimes and crimes against humanity.
"It's up to the tribunal to indict and name people as war criminals," Rubin added, noting there is no statute of limitation on the types of crimes involved.
That sentiment was echoed by White House press secretary Joe Lockhart.
"As the commanders of the Yugoslav forces look at what they do from day to day, they need to understand that there are consequences at the end of this -- and that the international community has a long memory and has the ability to gather evidence," Lockhart said.
"And as they move forward, they should keep in the back of their minds that there may be consequences for them when this is over," warned Lockhart.
U.S. officials believe the nine commanders, whose names Rubin read aloud, are in charge of operations that have pushed hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanians out of Kosovo since NATO bombing of Yugoslavia began two weeks ago:
The fact that the commanders may have been under orders from Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, who has also been targeted by U.S. officials for possible prosecution, would not leave them immune from individual prosecution, Rubin said.
"The fact that someone is ordered to commit crimes does not relieve that person of the individual criminal liability," he said.
Rubin said U.S. officials were gathering evidence of war crimes to send to the war crimes tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands, including incidents of mass execution, beatings and forced expulsion.
The Clinton administration on Wednesday repeated NATO's demand that Milosevic:
"Nothing less will bring peace with security to the people of Kosovo," President Clinton said in Washington.
In a foreign policy address, Clinton stressed that the 19- member NATO alliance was united in its determination to make Milosevic comply with its demands.
On Tuesday, Milosevic declared a unilateral cease-fire with ethnic Albanian rebels in Kosovo.
But NATO, calling the move insufficient, ignored it Wednesday -- the 15th day of airstrikes -- hitting dozens of targets throughout Yugoslavia, including Serb ground forces "in and around Kosovo."
At NATO headquarters in Brussels, U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen said there would be no letup in air operations against Yugoslav forces.
"This is no time to pause," he told a news conference.
Cohen said NATO warplanes would now "take the battle to individual units" of Yugoslav forces the alliance holds responsible for carrying out ethnic cleansing in Kosovo.
The air campaign, which began March 24, would be "intensified in the coming days and weeks," Cohen said.
Speaking after meetings with NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana and alliance Supreme Commander Gen. Wesley Clark, Cohen said there were no plans to send ground troops into Kosovo.
Cohen arrived in Belgium with an 11-member bipartisan delegation of House and Senate members from committees with jurisdiction over national security issues.
The group was to visit U.S. forces at Aviano Air Base in Italy and Ramstein Air Base in Germany before returning to Washington on Thursday.
Responding to a Washington Post story that Secretary of State Madeleine Albright misjudged Milosevic and the Yugoslav leader's resolve to withstand NATO punishment, Rubin called the report "fundamentally inaccurate."
According to the Post, Albright had argued repeatedly throughout 1998 that Milosevic would back down to the threat of force just as he appeared to do last fall when NATO warned it would launch airstrikes -- but didn't.
That conviction, the newspaper said, was a basic U.S. assumption during peace talks in France that failed to convince Milosevic to relent on his campaign against Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority.
Rubin denied that Washington miscalculated.
"The suggestion that Secretary Albright or any of the president's senior advisers were confident that President Milosevic would back off is just simply wrong," he told CNN.
As the administration's policy on Kosovo was being formed, he said, "all the president's senior advisors believed that the only chance to get President Milosevic to pursue peace was if we threatened force. ... It was the last best chance for peace."
The United States did not "expect him to back down after a day or two," Rubin said.
Lockhart also said the "president and his national security team have been united in moving forward this campaign." And he said he would put the Post story "in a pile that's growing steadily of inaccurate reports."
U.S. to receive first Yugo refugees on Friday
Extensive list of Kosovo-related sites
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