UK Serbs plan war crimes exhibition: Tim Kelsey reports on an attempt by expatriates to reverse the tide of public opinion against their country

BRITISH Serbs are trying to import an exhibition which records, in horrific detail, war crimes committed against the Serbian population of the former Yugoslavia.

Serbs hope that staging the exhibition in London, possibly in breach of United Nations sanctions, will help reverse the tide of public outrage against Serbia.

The exhibition, a series of explicit photographs illustrating the mutilation and murder of Serb civilians during the Second World War and the present civil war, opened nearly six months ago in Belgrade.

The Government here has failed to decide whether to permit the exhibition. Serbs in London plan to stage it in March. International sanctions in force against Serbia appear, however, to rule it out. A Foreign Office spokesman said yesterday that it was a 'grey area' and would require explicit government approval.

Ariana Beatty, a Serb by birth who has lived in the UK for most of her life, is pressing the authorities to permit her to show the pictures. Ms Beatty, a researcher for the Balkan Research Centre, insisted yesterday that the exhibition is not political propaganda.

The cost of staging it at the Museum of Applied Arts in Belgrade, she conceded, was being met by the government of Slobodan Milosevic. In London, she said, costs were being met by private donations. 'We have no contact with any government. This is enlightening the public about history. The Muslims are allowed to bring in material. Can't we bring it too?'

If the exhibition is shown in London it is certain to anger expatriates of other ethnic groups from the former Yugoslavia.

The Belgrade museum has cleared every gallery to hang the photographs. According to its catalogue, the idea was conceived in autumn 1990 as Serbian archaeologists began to dig up bodies of people killed by the Nazis.

The following year, the war in Yugoslavia started and the organisers decided to start a 'living journal of our times . . . testimony to the genocide and crimes against the Serbs . . . No other people in history have undergone such destruction over such a short period as the Serbian people in the past five decades'.

The catalogue states that the authenticity of the photographs has been checked. All the victims are of Serbian origin, it says.

The images of death and torture during the Second World War, banned under Tito and shown in Belgrade for the first time, provide a reminder of atrocities committed by the Nazis and their Croatian henchmen. The hated Croatian Ustashe, assisted by Muslims, ruthlessly pursued the destruction of a Serbian presence on their territory.

Many died. In 1941, the commander of Krajina reported that Serbs were 'beaten mercilessly with rifle butts on their fingers, backs and kidneys until they lost consciousness, they were ordered to take off their clothes, were pulled around the room by the scrotum . . . hit on the head with sharp iron objects until their skulls shattered'.

There were concentration camps for children, as well as for adults. The exhibition includes detailed portraits of dead Serbian priests, photographs of a special curved knife attached to the wrist which was used for cutting Serbian throats, and decapitated children.

The current conflict marks 'renewed genocide' by a coalition of Croats and Muslims against Serbs. The single difference between the Second World War photographs and contemporary ones is that most of the latter are in colour. There are victims of massacres, of random burnings and of indiscriminate atrocities against civilians. There is no mention of Muslim suffering in Bosnia; no mention of the rape of Muslim women by Serbian soldiers; no description of ethnic cleansing.

'The public is not aware of the real facts,' Ms Beatty said. 'They think of Serbs as aggressors. You can tell a lie a hundred times and everybody will believe it.

'But the public has a right to know the truth. I'm not trying to say the Serbs are not to blame - I think all the groups are equally guilty. We are concerned about the image the public has of us here.'

Reportage tonight at 6.50 on BBC 2 includes the first report from Belgrade on the exhibition.

(Photograph omitted)