War in the Balkans: Codes of war - Targets get legal check

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EVERY NATO air strike against Slobodan Milosevic's regime has to be cleared by Government law officers to ensure it does not break international codes of war.

The Secretary of State for Defence, George Robertson, said yesterday that while the Serbs wage war on the population of Kosovo, all the operations carried out by British and other allied forces must be scrupulously checked to ensure they comply with international law. During a visit to Germany, Mr Robertson said that he, the Attorney General, John Morris, and the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, "pore over" the targets before any authorisation is given.

"While Milosevic is tipping human beings over the border like garbage, we are trying to do our utmost to make sure we never sink to anywhere near their level," he said. "I am the chairman of the Defence Council. I have a legal responsibility for ensuring that the forces that are put into action behave legally. If they don't act legally, it's me that's liable as well as them."

After a meeting with the German Defence Minister, Rudolf Scharping, the two ministers gave another example of how Serb forces are breaking international law, by dragging refugees back into Kosovo to act as human shields.

The ministers maintained that this attempt to "very partially" stem the flow of the dispossessed was because "he [Milosevic] knows that our air strikes are working and this is his cowardly and brutal response".

Mr Scharping also said that Nato now has information that Milosevic planned as early as October last year to carry out his mass cleansing of Kosovo's Muslim population. He hoped to present evidence of this today.