Tribunal indicts Milosevic on war crimes, sources say
May 27, 1999
LONDON (CNN) -- The International War Crimes Tribunal has issued an indictment accusing Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic of atrocities, tribunal sources told CNN, a move that Russian diplomats said would undermine efforts to negotiate a peace deal with Yugoslavia.
The tribunal, based at The Hague, Netherlands, would not comment on the report, but said it would hold a news conference 8 a.m. EDT (2 p.m. local time) Thursday. There was no immediate comment from the Yugoslav government, but officials there have said in the past that the tribunal was biased and anti-Serb.
The U.N. court's chief prosecutor, Louise Arbour, has been investigating alleged war crimes in Kosovo for more than a year, even though Yugoslavia has banned her from traveling there.
Arbour's spokesman, Paul Risley, who spent the last two days speaking with Kosovo refugees in Albania, said there is evidence of war crimes on a massive scale and that the challenge for investigators is where to focus.
Many of the hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanian refugees who fled Kosovo have reported what they described as systematic rapes, beatings, detentions and mass killings at the hands of Serb forces.
The indictment of Milosevic would mark the first time a sitting head of state has been charged with war crimes.
Under the tribunal's rules, war-crimes suspects are required to surrender or be surrendered by authorities. But observers say Milosevic is unlikely to turn himself in for trial, leaving NATO in the position of negotiating with an indicted war criminal for a resolution to the Kosovo-Serb conflict.
Russia's ambassador to the United Nations, Sergey Lavrov, said such an indictment would hurt diplomatic efforts and cause "serious consideration in Moscow," which is trying to broker a settlement between NATO and Yugoslavia.
"This would be counterproductive," Lavrov told reporters.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson, whose personal plea to Milosevic earlier this month secured the release of three captured U.S. soldiers, also said peace talks would likely suffer.
"I think the timing is bad. The indictment will simply complicate negotiations," he said.
But U.S. officials told CNN they would have "no choice" but to negotiate with the president of Yugoslavia, even if he is indicted.
There is some precedent for negotiations with indicted war criminals. U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke met with Bosnian Serb leaders Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, in the presence of Milosevic, for negotiations leading up to the Dayton accords in 1995, which ended the Bosnian conflict.
Karadzic and Mladic remain at large.
Russia's special envoy tried Thursday to agree on new proposals for a political settlement for the Kosovo conflict with U.S. and European representatives.
Viktor Chernomyrdin held a final meeting Thursday in Moscow with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott and Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari before departing for Belgrade. Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov also attended.
The composition of an international peace-keeping force reportedly was under discussion. Chernomyrdin, Talbott and Ahtisaari held talks late in to the night Wednesday, but no details on the meetings were released.
Russia started the talks by repeating its demand for an immediate end to NATO airstrikes against Yugoslavia.
"It is necessary to stop the airstrikes and negotiate, agree and at last come to a result," Chernomyrdin said. "At least a temporary pause is needed."
Chernomyrdin said in an opinion piece written before the indictment and published in Thursday's Washington Post that Moscow would pull out of the talks if NATO did not halt its bombing of Yugoslavia to allow diplomacy to proceed.
After news of the emerged of the planned indictment of Milosevic, there had been reports that Chernomyrdin's trip to Belgrade would be in jeopardy.
But a Chernomyrdin aide says the envoy still intends to fly to Belgrade.
Chernomyrdin's departure for Belgrade was delayed for several hours to allow further talks in Moscow.
Russia and NATO disagree on two key points: the makeup of an international peacekeeping force stationed in Kosovo once the bombing ends, and the withdrawal of Yugoslav forces from the province.
NATO has demanded a large, heavily armed force with NATO at its core; Yugoslavia has said it will accept nothing more than a small, lightly armed force commanded by the United Nations.
NATO also demands a complete withdrawal of Yugoslav forces before the bombing can end, although Talbott said Wednesday that some Serb forces may be allowed back into Kosovo to guard Serbian historic sites or handle some border patrol duties. Yugoslavia wants some troops to remain behind while the bulk of the force withdraws.
No end to the bombing
Planes roared over Belgrade late Wednesday and early Thursday, and the rattle of heavy anti-aircraft fire resounded in the capital soon after air raid sirens sounded. Powerful explosions were heard in the city's New Belgrade area and the southern district of Rakovica, where thick, black smoke was seen rising from an engine factory.
The state-run Tanjug news agency said NATO struck a ministry building in New Belgrade that coordinates imports and exports of weapons, but the missiles did not explode.
The private Studio B television said 53 missiles hit Belgrade and the surrounding area overnight in one of the fiercest NATO attacks on the capital since the bombing started March 24.
Local media reported that two children and a woman were killed and several people were injured in Ralja, 18 miles south of Belgrade, when a missile struck residential buildings. Tanjug said three people were killed and two injured when NATO bombed two villages in the Kosovska Vitina area southeast of Pristina, Kosovo's provincial capital.
Serbian media also said a series of "exceptionally strong explosions" echoed early Thursday from the direction of the Batajnica military airport, northwest of Belgrade. Flashes from the blasts could be seen from central Belgrade.
NATO said on Thursday that the high operational tempo of recent days has continued, with Allied aircraft continuing their intense campaign against Serb ground forces in Kosovo, and against military targets throughout Serbia.
On Day 64 of Operation Allied Force, allied forces flew 741 sorties, the highest number of the campaign so far, of which 308 were strike sorties, also a record, and 74 were sorties designed to suppress Serb air defenses. The attacks occurred during a 24-hour period that ended at 9 a.m. local time (3 a.m. EDT).
Serb ground force units attacked in Kosovo included 10 artillery positions, armored personnel carriers, at least 5 tanks, 4 anti-aircraft artillery emplacements, several mortar positions, 2 Antonov Colt light transport aircraft, a mobile surface-to-air missile transporter-launcher, a radar site, and several other military vehicles.
Other targets attacked included:
A Yugoslav army and special police garrison and command headquarters at Kula Milicija was struck as were a command and logistics post at Livadica and a highway bridge at Raska.
All NATO aircraft returned safely.
In Belgrade, the head of a U.N. humanitarian mission that has toured war-battered Yugoslavia over the past week and a half said the NATO bombing has created a calamity for the Serb people.
But he also rejected Serb claims that the mass exodus of hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanians from Kosovo was a result of NATO attacks and rebel Kosovo Liberation Army offenses.
"All these arguments, understandable as they may be, even if combined, cannot explain or justify the magnitude and geographical extent of internal displacement and of the refugee phenomenon in the neighboring countries," said U.N. Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Sergio Vieira de Mello.
Trial of aid workers begins in Yugoslavia
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