Serb court charges western leaders with war crimes

BELGRADE, Aug 30, 2000 -- (Reuters) A Belgrade prosecutor charged 14 Western leaders on Tuesday for crimes allegedly committed during NATO's air war against Yugoslavia in 1999, the state news agency Tanjug reported.

The list of accused included U.S. President Bill Clinton, former NATO secretary general Javier Solana and leaders of Britain, France and Germany, the agency said. The charges followed investigations begun by Serbian authorities last year.

Tanjug quoted Serbian state prosecutor Dragisa Krsmanovic as saying the charges included the attempted assassination of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, instigation of an aggressive war, war crimes against the civilian population and the use of banned weapons.

The Western leaders were also charged with "violating Yugoslavia's territorial integrity," Krsmanovic said, adding that if found guilty they could be sentenced to between 15 and 20 years in prison.

NATO, which launched the air strikes to halt Yugoslavia's repression of Kosovo Albanians, insisted throughout the 78-day campaign it was aiming only at military targets and said it took all possible precautions to avoid civilian casualties.

During the bombing, NATO seriously damaged one of Milosevic's Belgrade residences while he was away, saying it was the center for the Kosovo operation and therefore a legitimate military target.

The Yugoslav authorities and the Washington-based Human Rights Watch have put the figure of civilian victims of the bombing at up to 500 people.

Tanjug quoted Belgrade deputy district prosecutor Nebojsa Maras as saying that "NATO attacks caused deaths of 504 civilians, 240 soldiers and 147 members policemen."

NATO has said that so-called collateral damage, a euphemism for civilian casualties, could not be avoided, but insisted its actions could not be compared with Serb violence in Kosovo.

The UN's International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia indicted Milosevic and four other top officials last year for alleged crimes their security forces committed in Kosovo.

Yugoslavia has said it does not recognize the tribunal.

NATO-led forces and the United Nations took de facto control of Kosovo last year after Yugoslav security forces pulled out.

Over 200,000 Serbs and other minorities have since fled Kosovo because of revenge attacks by the ethnic Albanian majority who suffered years of Serb repression.

Tanjug said new charges of alleged genocide against Serbs and others in Kosovo would soon be brought against Bernard Kouchner, head of the U.N.-led administration in Kosovo, and ethnic Albanian leaders Hashim Thaqi and Agim Ceku.

Original article