Killings may trigger Nato military action

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The Independent Online
SHOCKING photographic evidence of the latest Serbian atrocity at a makeshift refugee camp in Kosovo could be the trigger that forces the military intervention the international community has been dithering about for months, senior European diplomats said last night.

Pictures of the corpses of men, women and children who had been shot at close range, some of the bodies decapitated, could be the equivalent of the Serb bombing of a marketplace in the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo, in the summer of 1995, which finally prompted Nato to attack Bosnian Serb military installations, a source at the alliance's headquarters in Brussels suggested last night.

A senior European Union diplomat said he would be "very surprised", given the strength of the warnings from the US and Germany in recent days, if the latest evidence of Serb brutality were not followed by a move towards air strikes. The United Nations Security Council has already given its approval - in principle - for military action against Serbia under "Chapter 7" of the UN charter.

Anger in Western capitals is likely to be heightened in the light of the Serbian government's boast on Monday that the seven-month campaign against the insurgent Kosovo Liberation Army had ended.

The statement of Mirko Marjanovic, the Prime Minister, to the Serbian parliament that "peace reigns in Kosovo today" was calculated to avert Nato air strikes and was, we now know, followed by cold-blooded attacks on ethnic Albanian villagers. "This was clearly an attempt to pacify the international community while operations were continuing on the ground," the EU diplomat said.

The West found proof of the massacre yesterday when a contingent of European military observers and diplomats went to the scene.

They were touring the province to see if the Serbs were complying with an earlier pledge to withdraw troops to barracks in the province. What they found may be sufficient to trigger military retaliation, since it was a clear violation of Security Council orders. It was also a gross infringement of the Geneva Convention, which outlaws the killing of innocent civilians.

By the time Nato ambassadors meet in Brussels today the full horror of the scene will have been conveyed. Mounting pressure for a military response could prompt a formal ultimatum to the Serbian President, Slobodan Milosevic, as early as today.

The Nato-Russian council also meets on Kosovo in Brussels today and a two-day meeting of the six-nation contact group of countries dealing with the former Yugoslavia in London tomorrow could be decisive.

Nato has already drawn up plans for a range of options, including strikes by US cruise missiles, a phased air campaign and the deployment of ground troops. Officials are confident that such responses could be swiftly implemented.