War In The Balkans: Serbs `went on a rampage of violence'

UN Report
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The Independent Online
IN THE most authoritative account of events on the ground in Kosovo since the start of the Nato bombing, a United Nations official yesterday told the Security Council that Serb forces had engaged in a "rampage of killing, burning, looting, forced expulsion, violence, vendetta and terror".

The presentation was by the Under-Secretary-General, Sergio Vieira de Mello, who last month led officials on an 11-day tour through the heart of the Balkan conflict.

The findings will bolster Nato's case for the campaign it has been waging for the past 70 days. But it also contains a plea for urgent progress towards a peace settlement, to allow work to begin on addressing grave humanitarian needs.

In particular, Mr De Mello said he had seen clear evidence of systematic "ethnic cleansing" of the Albanian population in Kosovo. "Even allowing for spontaneous, uncontrolled brutality, the team collected indisputable evidence of or- ganised, well-planned violence against civilians, aimed at displacing and permanently deporting them." A full report is to be presented to Kofi Annan, UN Secretary-General.

"Emergency relief for the internally displaced population in Kosovo - whose total estimated remains above half a million - is urgently required," Mr De Mello said. In places, 80 per cent of homes, shops and businesses had been destroyed between 24 March and 10 April. "The extent of the damage ... and clear signs that inhabitants had fled on very short notice, probably in terror, was the most disturbing finding," he reported.

In Pristina, the damage was seen to be less dramatic than elsewhere in the province, Mr De Mello reported. He added that: "Local authorities claim to have controlled the scope of the rampage within two weeks and to have arrested over 600 criminals."

He rejected explanations from the Yugoslav authorities that the devastation arose from legitimate counter-insurgency operations against the Kosovo Liberation Army and from the "irrational effect of Nato bombing on the behaviour of Serb individuals".