New evidence of Kosovo massacres

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DETAILS OF new massacres of civilians in Kosovo emerged last night as an observer from Human Rights Watch reported seeing the bodies of four people at Prizren, about 40km south of the capital, Pristina.

Two had been shot at long range, another in the head at close range, execution style, and the fourth had been shot in the chest and his nose had been cut off.

Eyewitnesses who spoke to the observer yesterday said the shootings happened as a convoy of around 250 vans and tractors was stopped by police as it attempted to return to the village of Vranic on Monday. Around 300 men were separated from the convoy and taken into custody in Prizren, where they were allegedly tortured and beaten. Holly Cartner of Human Rights Watch in New York said there was grave concern for the safety of the 50 men still in custody.

While the new accounts of Serb massacres in Kosovo have intensified pressure for Nato military intervention to end the bloodshed and bring about a political settlement, the international response has been spectacularly unimpressive.

Nato ambassadors met in Brussels for three hours of talks on Kosovo and were informed of the Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown's assessment of the situation as probable genocide. Officials at Nato headquarters said the television pictures and reports from observers indicated clearly that Serb security forces were continuing to loot villages and attack civilians despite claims of a ceasefire.

The German government confirmed yesterday that it is making available 14 Tornado fighter-bombers to an air campaign and at least six other countries have informed Nato that they will participate if the order is given.

The Contact Group of six nations dealing with the former Yugoslavia is due to meet in London tomorrow and the question of sanctioning Nato air strikes will be top of the agenda.

Nato already has cruise missiles and a number of warplanes within reach of Kosovo but officials said no action would be taken until a large force was in place. "The view is that we need to be able to go not just from A to B but from A to Z very quickly," said one official.

A team of independent investigators will try to gain access to the makeshift graves in the Drenica region where the bodies of the massacred civilians were discovered on Tuesday. A detailed report on the circumstances of the atrocity will be necessary to establish definitively whether it was carried out by the Serbs.

While there is little doubt in the minds of Western diplomatic observers who saw evidence of the carnage at first hand that the Yugoslav army and Serb police are to blame, the independent report is seen as critical in convincing Moscow to lift its veto on the use of force against the Serbs.

The British Ambassador in Belgrade, Brian Donnelly, yesterday conveyed to the Yugolsav president, Slobodan Milosevic, Britain's demand for an inquiry team to be allowed access to area, and this was backed up by pressure from the Austrian presidency of the European Union.

Forensic scientists from the International War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague are most likely to be used for the Kosovo inquiry according to diplomats.

The international war crimes prosecutor, Louise Arbour, would first have to make a legal assessment but officials in The Hague said a redeployment of teams currently working in the Srebrenica area of Bosnia could be accomplished quickly. "This would be treated as any criminal investigation" said a spokesman. Ms Arbour has clarified in recent days that Kosovo comes within the jurisdiction of the tribunal.