UN seeks Yugoslav war crimes tribunal

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The Independent Online
THE UNITED Nations Security Council voted yesterday to set up an international war crimes tribunal - the first since the Nuremberg court created after the Second World War - to try those accused of atrocities in the former Yugoslavia.

In Washington, officials said last night that the US has decided to parachute relief supplies into Bosnia but President Bill Clinton is consulting with the UN and Western leaders before making the announcement.

The officials, who asked not to be named, said the airdrops under the protection of US navy warplanes could begin as early as this week, but no final timetable has been set.

In New York yesterday, meanwhile, the future of the Lord Owen-Cyrus Vance peace plan for Bosnia appeared to be hanging by a thread. Last-minute efforts to bring the Serbian and Bosnian government leaders back to the peace plan negotiations at the UN were failing. Without the presence of these leaders, Lord Owen and Mr Vance believe no breakthough in the talks can be achieved.

Proposals for the war crimes tribunal include a multi-national panel composed of more than a dozen judges who would be empowered to hand out prison sentences, but not the death penalty. The Nazi leaders' defence - that they were carrying out orders - would not be permitted.

The setting up of the tribunal has clear implications for the Vance-Owen peace negotiations. Sir David Hannay, the British ambassador to the UN, said it was important that the UN-sponsored peace plan 'should not be seen as a cover-up for the crimes being committed, nor an attempt to wipe the slate clean'.

The tribunal would be an important assurance for all the parties concerned to know that 'their sufferings were not going to be set on one side because of some diplomatic deal', said Sir David.

However, the Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic, who had been due here tomorrow, repeated that he would not be attending. Speaking at a mass funeral yesterday for Serb fighters, allegedly captured alive and killed by Muslims, he said that their deaths now made it impossible for 'Muslims and Serbs ever to live again in Bosnia as brothers'.

The Russians, whom Lord Owen and Mr Vance hoped might have had some leverage with the Serbs, were especially gloomy. Russian officials said they did not expect to be able to change Mr Karadzic's mind.

The Russian view is that Mr Karadzic might be persuaded to return to talks in Geneva where the peace negotiations stalled last month, but Lord Owen and Mr Vance have said privately that they are not willing to go back to Switzerland.

They believe that the only possible chance for a breakthrough is right here, with the Security Council watching over the negotiations.

One of Mr Karadzic's problems is that he is being hounded by international human rights organisations for war crimes and he is concerned that he might be served with writs on arrival in New York.

Although the Bosnian president and leader of Bosnian Muslims, Alija Izetbegovic, is expected here, Bosnian officials say he will not lead his delegation at the UN.