Milosevic indictment makes history
May 27, 1999
THE HAGUE, Netherlands (CNN) -- Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic became the first sitting head of state to be charged with war crimes Thursday when a U.N. tribunal accused him of responsibility for alleged atrocities in Kosovo.
Milosevic and four other top officials were indicted on 340 counts of murder, stemming from seven separate massacres, and 740,000 forced deportations from the embattled Serb province since the beginning of 1999.
Also indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia were Serbian President Milan Milutinovic, deputy Yugoslav Prime minister Nikola Sainovic, Yugoslav military Chief of Staff Dragoljub Ojdanic and Serbian Internal Affairs Minister Vlajko Stojiljkovic.
Judge Louise Arbour, the tribunal's chief prosecutor, has been investigating allegations of "ethnic cleansing" and other atrocities in Kosovo even though she has not been allowed to go there. Arbour announced the indictments Thursday at The Hague.
She said warrants were issued for the arrests of the five men, although the tribunal -- created by the United Nations Security Council during the Bosnia conflict in 1993 -- has no mechanism for arresting them. And she expressed concern the suspects "might put themselves out of reach."
In an interview with CNN, Arbour said she did not want to discuss the specific offenses alleged in the indictment "until the accused are in custody."
"We haven't had access to Kosovo for a long time," she said. "We have a lot of information about what we will discover if and when we go, but I don't know what will be there. So I think to substantiate charges of genocide, it is prudent to have a fuller picture."
Yugoslavia condemned the tribunal as an "international inquisitorial court used by the United States to obliterate enemies ... to destroy a country's sovereignty." Yugoslav officials say they refuse to recognize its jurisdiction.
It said President Clinton and the NATO supreme commander, Gen. Wesley Clark, should instead be cited "for their criminal bombing" of Yugoslavia since March 24.
In Washington, officials acknowledged the United States provided thousands of pages of evidence along with satellite imagery used to corroborate the charges. They emphasized that no amnesty would be considered for Milosevic as part of a deal to negotiate a settlement to the Kosovo crisis.
A sensitive diplomatic trip to Belgrade by special Russian envoy Viktor Chernomyrdin -- following several days of talks in Moscow with deputy U.S. Secretary of State Strobe Talbott and other Western diplomats -- was postponed until at least Friday.
Chernomyrdin had initially planned to meet with Milosevic Thursday.
Vladislav Jovanovic, Yugoslavia's charge d'affaires at the United Nations, said the indictment could undercut Chernomyrdin's mission to Belgrade.
"Mr. Chernomyrdin is a very honorable person, but that kind of action -- the decision of the tribunal and the support of that decision by leading NATO countries -- is not a form of support for the mission of Mr. Chernomyrdin," he said.
U.S. officials would not rule out future contacts between Milosevic and administration or NATO officials, despite the indictment.
Arbour said the indictment was unlikely to affect negotiations, but "the evidence upon which this indictment was confirmed raises serious questions about their suitability to be the guarantors of any deal, let alone a peace agreement," she said.
Milosevic and the four others face maximum sentences of life in prison if they can be tried and are convicted.
"Do I believe that people indicted by this tribunal will be tried? If I didn't believe that, I wouldn't be here," Arbour told CNN. "Yes, I believe they will be tried."
The release to the tribunal of highly classified evidence by the United States and its NATO allies was crucial in bringing about the indictments, which Arbour requested May 22.
In the past, the tribunal has been forced to rely solely on the accounts of refugees who were forced by the Belgrade government to flee to neighboring Macedonia and Albania.
The reaction around the world to Milosevic's indictment was mixed. NATO spokesman Jamie Shea said the bombing would continue until Yugoslavia agreed to the five conditions the alliance set for a bombing halt.
"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 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 leveled 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 defenseless 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."
In Moscow, Russia's Foreign Ministry called the decision "politicized," and said it will only complicate negotiations. But officials in the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo told CNN the indictment will "end the tragedy in the region."
NATO member Germany welcomed the news, while China -- whose embassy in Belgrade was bombed in a misdirected NATO attack - - expressed concern that the indictments could hurt peace talks.
Milosevic, 4 deputies charged with war crimes
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