Milosevic, 4 deputies charged with war crimes
May 27, 1999
THE HAGUE, Netherlands (CNN) -- A U.N. tribunal formally indicted Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic for alleged war crimes Thursday, accusing him of authorizing a military campaign against civilians in the Serb province of Kosovo.
The indictment marks the first time a sitting head of state has been charged with war crimes. Milosevic and four subordinates face charges of murder, deportation and persecution in violation of the laws and customs of war, said the tribunal's chief war crimes prosecutor, Louise Arbour.
"We are not resting our case on simply the knowledge of superiors of the acts of their subordinates," Arbour said. "We are charging all five with personally ordering, planning, instigating, executing or aiding and abetting in the accounts of persecution, deportation and murder."
Charged along with the Yugoslav president were Serbian President Milan Milutinovic and his minister of internal affairs, Vlajko Stojiljkovic; Gen. Dragoljub Ojdanic, the chief of staff of the Yugoslav armed forces; and Nicola Sainovic, Yugoslavia's deputy prime minister.
The charges stem only from Yugoslav and Serbian actions in Kosovo since the beginning of 1999, Arbour said. Many of the hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanian refugees who have fled Kosovo have reported what they described as systematic rapes, beatings, detentions and mass killings at the hands of Serb forces.
Arbour would not discuss specifics of the charges against the five men.
"I do not intend to reveal the nature of this evidence. I do not believe that unless the accused are in custody, it would be prudent to reveal the evidence against them," she said.
The republics of Serbia and Montenegro make up what is left of the former Yugoslavia. Separatists in Kosovo, a southern province of Serbia, have been waging a battle for autonomy or independence.
Early reaction from Belgrade suggested that Yugoslavia would offer no cooperation with the U.N. tribunal.
Goran Matic, a Yugoslav minister-without-portfolio, called the tribunal a tool of the United States and said his country did not recognize its authority.
In Geneva, Yugoslavia's envoy to the United Nations said the indictment would serve as an excuse for NATO to continue its bombing campaign.
"Whenever we are at the threshold of peace or a peaceful solution, NATO and its allies will find a way to put a stick into it," Branko Brankovic, Belgrade's U.N. representative, told a news conference.
If convicted, Milosevic would face a maximum life sentence. But he 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 latest Kosovo-Serb conflict.
NATO airstrikes against Yugoslavia began March 24.
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 -- as well as Milosevic -- for that ended the Bosnian conflict in 1995. Karadzic and Mladic remain at large.
Arbour and her staff have been probing allegations of war crimes in Kosovo for more than a year, even though Yugoslavia has banned her from traveling there.
The tribunal is still investigating the role of Milosevic and his co-defendants in atrocities reported during the Croatian and Bosnian wars in the early 1990s, Arbour said.
But by last week, "We had sufficient evidence of offenses committed by these accused to bring these charges at this time," she said.
The arrest warrants are accompanied by a court order asking U.N. member states to freeze all international assets of the suspects, Arbour said. The International War Crimes Tribunal does not have any arrest capability of its own.
Russia called the indictment of Milosevic "politically motivated," but said it would not abandon its diplomatic bid to end the Kosovo crisis.
Russia's special Balkans envoy, Viktor Chernomyrdin, postponed -- but did not cancel -- his scheduled trip to Belgrade on Thursday for talks with Milosevic.
Aides said Chernomyrdin's departure could be delayed by "complicated" peace talks in Moscow with U.S. and European mediators.
"The talks are sufficiently complicated, but this is the normal negotiating process," Chernomyrdin's spokesman Valentin Sergeyev told reporters.
Arbour said she did not think the indictments would hinder negotiations, but would contribute to a lasting peace in the region. She said, however, that the evidence against Milosevic and the other suspects "raises serious questions" about whether they could be trusted to stand by any accord.
Much of the evidence used to indict Milosevic came from NATO countries, which have repeatedly accused the Yugoslav president of masterminding an effort to rid Kosovo of its ethnic Albanian population.
NATO spokesman Jamie Shea said the bombing would continue until Yugoslavia agreed to the five conditions the alliance set for a bombing halt. He declined to speculate about the indictment's effect on diplomacy.
"This is something we have noted coming from the tribunal today, but it does not change the intensity and momentum of Operation Allied Force," Shea said.
U.S. President Bill Clinton said the indictment would "reassure the victims of Belgrade's atrocities in Kosovo, and it will deter future war crimes by establishing that those who give the orders will be held accountable."
In a written statement released Thursday, Clinton called on all nations to "support the tribunal's decision and to cooperate with its efforts to seek justice."
British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, who has levelled some of NATO's harshest criticism toward Milosevic, said Britain will work to see that those indicted would stand trial.
"I have highlighted the massacre of unarmed men, the rape of defensless women, the violent ethnic cleansing of a whole people," Cook said. "It is right that those who ordered those crimes should be brought to account."
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