CEOL - NATO Chief Says Kosovo Toll Justified Intervention

BUDAPEST, Nov 12, 1999 -- (Reuters) NATO Secretary-General George Robertson said on Thursday the exhumation so far of more than 2,000 bodies from Kosovo mass graves was more than enough to justify the bombing of Yugoslavia.

Robertson, speaking the day after investigators told the U.N. they had exhumed 2,108 bodies at sites across Kosovo, said the report was indicative of a level of violence "we thought had been eliminated after the Second World War".

"The United Nations mission has said that they have exhumed some 2,000 bodies of what they expect will be at least 4,000 bodies that are buried in graves there," Robertson said.

"That is a very large number of people in a very small country to have been butchered by the Serb forces and paramilitaries," he said, a day after U.N. investigators released an initial report on war crimes in Kosovo.

The report released at the United Nations said investigators had so far removed 2,108 bodies from 195 sites containing 4,256 bodies. Most are ethnic Albanians.

The figures, given by U.N. war crimes prosecutor Carle Del Ponte in a briefing to the Security Council, indicated the number of dead would be below the more than 10,000 people NATO estimated were killed before its troops occupied Kosovo in June following 78 days of bombing.

Del Ponte said her office had received reports from a variety of sources of 11,334 people buried in a total of 529 grave sites, but said she was uncertain whether the figures could be verified.

Yugoslavia must clear Danube - Robertson

Serb officials have already cast doubt on the U.N. investigators' figures, noting that at one point Western estimates of the dead in Kosovo had been 100,000 but were later reduced.

Robertson said it would be useless to engage in a numbers game "other than to illustrate that there was clearly a huge amount of violence going on inside that country."

"And we still do not know, and we may not know for some time, just how many other bodies were disposed of in different ways. But there was a humanitarian tragedy there."

Robertson added; "I am not willing to regret or to apologize for any of the numbers until we know the final proof and we have the final evidence and we are certainly not at that point yet."

Robertson, who was British defense secretary before taking over as head of NATO, also said it was Yugoslavia's responsibility to clear the Danube River of bridges bombed into the water by NATO attacks.

"It is not a NATO responsibility. NATO acted in extremis - acted only when diplomacy had failed," Robertson, who was in Hungary for a planning visit with the new NATO member, said.

"Ultimately the responsibility will have to be shouldered by Serbia, from dealing with the problems of its own people caused by the conflict but also its responsibilities to its neighbors for making sure the River Danube is navigable again."

The Danube, Central Europe's main waterway, is blocked to shipping through Serbia by at least half a dozen bombed bridges. Hungary has expressed concern that unless the bridges are removed ice floes will jam up during the winter and cause flooding upstream.

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