Liberation of Kosovo: War crimes - Milosevic may be charged with genocide

Click to follow
The Independent Online
PRESIDENT SLOBODAN Milosevic may face charges of genocide in the light of new evidence of atrocities uncovered by Nato troops in Kosovo, the United Nations war crimes prosecutor, Louise Arbour said yesterday.

The decision to review the existing indictment for war crimes has been taken because of the scale of atrocities being uncovered in the province during the past week.

Ms Arbour, the chief prosecutor at the International War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague, made her announcement as Nato endorsed plans to help war crimes investigators in their work in Kosovo. It said it would establish a liaison team to tie together the work of the K-For peace implementation force and the international war crimes negotiators. Speaking in Brussels yesterday, Ms Arbour said: "We have never excluded the possibility of framing the charges under the genocide convention.We always made it clear that what was uncovered when granted access would be relevant. It is no secret that what is being uncovered is of a very troubling order of magnitude."

She added that more than 340 murder charges had been brought against Mr Milosevic and his closest allies and that she "will examine whether it would be appropriate to upgrade some of the existing charges and bring a more serious charge against these and other accused".

The Serbian president already faces charges of committing crimes against the laws and customs of war, and against humanity. The specific indictments include accusations of causing murder, forced deportations and persecution on political or racial grounds.

If Mr Milosevic is ever brought to trial for war crimes he would face life in prison. Although the maximum penalty for genocide is the same, upgrading the charge would be a big symbolic move since genocide is regarded as the "crime of crimes". It is, however, harder to achieve a conviction for this because the prosecutor would have to prove an "intent to destroy in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group".

But Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary, argued yesterday "the appalling mass deportations we saw from Pristina, particularly the use of the railways is evocative of what happened under Hitler and again under Stalin. This was systematic brutality that was carefully co-ordinated and planned with chilling inhumanity."

Four other senior members of the regime have been charged, Milan Milutinovic, the Serb president, Nikola Sainovic, the Yugoslav deputy prime minister, Dragoljub Ojdanic, chief of staff of the Yugoslav army and Vlajko Stojiljkovic, the Serbian minister of internal affairs. Ms Arbour said yesterday that she expects the war crimes regime in Kosovo to work more quickly and effectively than the it has done in Bosnia.

As well as the British forensic team which has arrived in Kosovo, an American contingent is due to arrive on Sunday, with help from France and Canada pledged.

Investigators have been interviewing witnesses among refugees who fled Kosovo but yesterday began the painstaking forensic work of investigating the deaths of up to 10, 000 people.

The British government said it has information relating to more than 100 separate atrocities. The war crimes tribunal will not investigate every incident but focus on those which would indicate a clear chain of command linking crimes to the authorities in Belgrade.