Milosevic wanted Nato raids to create victims, court told

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The Independent Online

The Yugoslav government wanted small-scale Nato air raids against the Serb population in 1998 to provide cover for the expulsion of Kosovo Albanians, a Serb witness told the trial of Slobodan Milosevic yesterday.

Ratomir Tanic, the first Serb prosecution witness to take the stand at the trial of the former Yugoslav president, said the British and German ambassadors to Belgrade were told that, "official Belgrade had nothing against a small scale bombing by Nato".

Mr Tanic, a Serb politician, said he was shocked after attending a meeting between Vladimir Stambuk, a vice- prime minister, with ambassador Brian Donnelly of Britain and Germany's Manfred Gruber. Mr Stambuk told him later that the bombing would provide an "excellent excuse" for the ethnic cleansing of Albanians from Serbia.

Mr Tanic told the war crimes court in The Hague that during the Nato air raids in 1999, he heard Mr Milosevic telling top Serbian politicians that "Serbia needs more civilian victims so that Nato would be presented as a criminal organisation".

Mr Milosevic argued that it was too early to negotiate peace with the West, and that more destructionwould help his position, according to Mr Tanic. The protected witness also claimed that Mr Milosevic knew in advance that the main Serb television and radio building in Belgrade was to be bombed by Nato. Warnings came from state security service and "other sources". They were taken "to the top".

Sixteen people were killed in the controversial attack on 23 April 1999.

Mr Milosevic, who is defending himself, rounded on Mr Tanic in his cross-examination. "You claim you had direct contact with me ... You never had a personal meeting with me," he said. "The first Serb to testify is a false witness."

He also quoted reports in Belgrade newspapers, which said that Mr Tanic had been described by his own New Democracy party as a marginal figure.

Meanwhile, two former allies of Mr Milosevic, the former Croatian Serb rebel leader Milan Martic and the retired Yugoslav army general Mile Mrksic, surrendered to the UN court yesterday.

Mr Martic was indicted for the shelling of the Croatian capital Zagreb in 1995, which killed several civilians. General Mrksic commanded an army unit which in 1991 besieged and shelled for months the eastern Croatian city of Vukovar. He later commanded troops under Mr Martic.