Cook says Serbs will pay for atrocities: Liberation of Kosovo

War Crimes

IT WAS the most tumultuous day so far in the infant peace of Kosovo: the first visit by leading European Nato ministers since the war ended, the first chance for the ethnic Albanian populace to salute the politicians who won it - and the first glimpse for those politicians of the pure, unadulterated evil which took place beyond the sight of the world.

A pedant might accuse the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia of having exaggerated the atrocity at Velika Krusa, in its indictment of Slobodan Milosevic, when it spoke of 105 Albanians slaughtered by Serb forces. In fact, 40 bodies have so far been recovered. But at that level of barbarity, figures are academic.

Yesterday, the Foreign Secretary visited the place. Once it was a farm. Now the silence of death radiates from a low building of breeze-blocks, an outhouse transformed into a charnel house. Donning white protective suit and gloves, Robin Cook inspected the site of one of the crimes which has turned the Yugoslav President and four of his closest associates into wanted criminals.

On 25 March - the day after the Nato bombing started - Yugoslav forces attacked and looted the village. Its inhabitants fled into the woods but were discovered the next day. The women and small children were told to go to Albania. The men and boys were taken away to the farm, herded into the two-room outhouse and mowed down with machine-gun fire. The Serbs then piled hay on the bodies and set them ablaze.

With the aid of DNA tests, and the meticulous sifting of charred bones and remains, and fragments of clothing, the scientists are trying to rebuild what three months ago were living human beings.

"When I arrived," said Professor Peter Vanezis, the forensic scientist heading the 15-man British team, "we found layers of bodies. Most were huddled into corners. There were 25 in the room to the right, 12 in the one to the left and three in the courtyard. We think there were around 40 in all, though some were little more than ash."

With luck, Professor Vanezis said, his work which started on Sunday should be wrapped up by the weekend. Then a report will be drawn up and sent to The Hague.

In the background stood two investigators from the tribunal, whose job it is to establish the chain of responsibility. Forensic scientists from the FBI have also begun work at two sites in Djakovica. The FBI yesterday described Kosovo as "one of the largest crime scenes in history".

Mr Cook vowed there would be no letting up. "Those who murdered your people will be pursued and brought to justice," he said a few hours later in the capital, Pristina.

"There is no time limit for these charges, and this Serbian government or any future Serbian government will have to accept the norms of the international community." And, he noted pointedly, Velika Krusa was "of direct and immediate relevance" to the case against Mr Milosevic.

But even in Kosovo, the past must give way to the future. Mr Cook was due to meet his colleagues from France, Germany and Italy, and together they were to hold discussions with first Albanian, then Serb representatives. The message was of the even-handedness of the K-For peacekeeping force, and of the need to preserve a multi ethnic Kosovo. The topics were reconstruction, aid, and even elections.

Along with joy, revenge is the emotion of the hour for Kovoso's Albanians. But even so, the four EU foreign ministers are hoping they can help persuade the Serbs to stay. Roughly a third of the 175,000 Serbs who lived in the province fled in the wake of the retreating Yugoslav army. "But we would hope at least some of these return," Mr Cook said.

"We must show there is no need to flee. There must be equal rights and freedom for all ethnic groups. Indeed we would be concerned if an ethnically pure Kosovo now emerged."

For Mr Cook it had been a day which soared from the depths of horror to the summits of a hero's welcome. "If anyone has doubts about what Nato did, then let them just look here," were his parting words at Velika Krusa.

Three hours later in Pristina, a politician more celebrated at home for his well- advertised intellect, was plunging into a rapturous crowd. "Rob-in Cook, Rob-in Cook," some 300 Albanians chanted.

"It was humbling," Mr Cook said. Sentiments not often heard from him.

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