War in the Balkans: `It all went very well,' said the general. `Another effective day'

A MASSACRE on the road to Prizren, more than 100 civilians - most of them ethnic Albanians - torn apart in the village of Korisa, stories of women and children ripped apart by Nato cluster bombs. And how did Nato kick off its three o'clock follies yesterday afternoon? Without a single word about these frightful reports, not a single bloody word of astonishment or compassion.

Instead, Jamie Shea and his Luftwaffe general droned on about Nato's successful operations over Kosovo. "They went very well," Major-General Walter Jertz informed us. "It was another very effective day of operations."

In Saigon, during the Vietnam War, they had the five o'clock follies. In the 1991 Gulf War, the Americans boasted of their military successes at the four o'clock follies. In Brussels, Nato's follies start at three o'clock. But yesterday, the Shea and Jertz show was theatre of the obscene.

Indeed, as we all waited to hear Nato's reaction to what might be its most terrible bloodbath to date (or Serbia's most successful propaganda), a Nato technician projected a massive test slide on to the screen next to the 19 flags of the alliance. "They say we're young and we don't know - won't find out until we grow," the words said on the screen. Were these lines from the Sonny and Cher song supposed to be gallows humour or just monumental ill-taste? The moment Shea and Jertz walked to the podium, we knew.

"We still see no indications of a Serb ground force redeployal (sic)," General Jertz announced. Forty tons of supplies had reached the Red Cross at Pristina. "I can assure you we will do everything possible to ensure the safe passage of these convoys."

All of us in the darkened Joseph Luns auditorium at Nato headquarters were holding our breath. Several journalists (the television coverage never shows this, of course) shook their heads in disbelief. There had, it seemed, been no safe passage in Kosovo. We were thinking of the first reports coming in - of Nato cluster bombs bursting amid 500 Albanian refugees, many of them children, of a massacre that would make even the Prizren- Djakovica slaughter in April small scale. We wanted to know about those who were young but would never grow.

But no, General Jertz of the Luftwaffe - or the "German Air Force" as we are for some reason encouraged to call it here - wanted to tell us that there had been 679 Nato missions over Yugoslavia in 24 hours, that there had been attacks on oil refineries, electricity stations, and the Batajnica airfield. Projected on to the slide screen - incredibly - were the words "A GOOD DAY". Then Mr Shea - the Horatio Bottomley of Nato - launched into his usual denunciations of Serb atrocities, exhuming some old pictures of alleged mass graves and some (slightly) newer ones of burnt villages.

He quoted from old human rights and newspaper articles and managed to mispronounce the names of seven Kosovo villages. "God knows, frankly, what we are going to find when Kosovo is open," he said, solemnly shaking his head.

God knows, I'm sure, what Mr Shea was thinking; he was far more frightened of what Western journalists - bused to the scene by the Serb authorities - would find in the village of Korisa. Fifty tractors had been destroyed in the attack, the Serbs were reporting, close to an area that had been the scene of sustained Nato attack.

It was, you see, significant that Mr Shea had not mentioned - had not alluded for a second - to these extraordinary reports. Had he thought for a moment that the Serbs had slaughtered these people, he would have told us all he knew. But he was silent. A colleague muttered in my ear that when Mr Shea was asked about the reported massacre, he would express no compassion for the dead but "promise another of his full and thorough investigations".

And when at last he was asked, Mr Shea expressed no compassion for the dead but promised "a full and thorough investigation". He hoped, he added sarcastically, that the journalists bused to the village by the Serbs would "insist on their right to go around freely and do their own research" - Mr Shea is now apparently a professor of journalism as well as Nato flak - and that they would investigate "ethnic cleansing" in the nearby town of Prizren. "You know Nato - we give the truth on these issues, every single time, the full facts."

But it doesn't. Nato does not give "the full facts" (or "the full fax" as Mr Shea keeps saying). It lies. When I asked for Nato's reaction to the KLA appointment of one of the most notorious ethnic cleansers as its

new military commander - Agim Ceku, one of the planners of Croatia's ethnic cleansing of 300,000 Serbs in Krajina - Mr Shea said he had no comment because "Nato has no direct contact with the KLA". This is totally untrue. Nato liaises with the KLA, holds security and intelligence meetings with its commanders, maintains radio contact with KLA men in Kosovo. Nato officials (including J Shea Esq) regularly announce KLA operations with approval.

When I asked General Jertz if Nato was using depleted uranium munitions in Serbia, he said it had not done so for two weeks but that depleted uranium is harmless. This, too, is a lie. There is growing evidence that the dust from spent depleted uranium shells has caused an epidemic of cancers in southern Iraq and may well be a cause of Gulf War syndrome.

British weapons testing sites are meticulously washed down after depleted uranium test- firings, their contents sealed in concrete. Nothing to worry about, said the general. "You find uranium in all sorts of things - in rocks, soil ..." No harm could be caused by the use of such shells, Mr Shea added. So much for the deformed babies now being born in Basra. And so much, I suppose, for the contaminated homes of Kosovo to which Nato claims it will return all of the Albanian refugees.

I kept wondering what this whole farce reminded me of. Here were the two Nato men recording, minute after minute, hour after hour, day after day, the destruction of the Kosovo population - the fault of the Serbs, to be sure, but the symbol none the less of Nato's total, abject failure in the Balkans. Every day, they tell us about mass graves and death and torture. And I recalled after a while what it all reminded me of - the discreet voices, the dipped lights, the flags hanging like dead flowers behind the podium, even the sinister iron Death Star, which stands grimly outside Nato headquarters. It reminded me of an undertaker's office.

The mock soul-searching, the old pictures, the expressions of regret. The cockney and the general were the morticians, as unable to contemplate an end to Nato's bombardment of Serbia as they were to arrest old age or find a cure for death.

Kosovo is dead. Its people are dead or dispossessed. For investigation, read autopsy. And after a while it dawned on me, as it has dawned on others attending these preposterous gatherings, that we are being prepared for the death of Nato.

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