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  •   Milosevic To Be Indicted for War Crimes

    Slobodan Milosevic,AP
    Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic (Reuters)
    By Charles Trueheart
    Washington Post Foreign Service
    Thursday, May 27, 1999; Page A1

    THE HAGUE, May 26 The international war crimes tribunal plans to announce Thursday that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic has been indicted for his role in atrocities and mass deportations carried out by military forces under his command in Kosovo, tribunal sources said today.

    The historic indictment could include multiple counts of crimes against humanity and possibly genocide perpetrated against Kosovo's ethnic Albanian population before and during NATO's eight-week-old air offensive against Yugoslavia, the sources said. And it would place personal responsibility for such war crimes squarely on Milosevic, who would be subject to an international arrest warrant issued by the tribunal, a United Nations body.

    Officials in the United States and other NATO countries conceded that the timing of the indictment by the independent chief prosecutor, Louise Arbour, could undermine chances of reaching a negotiated settlement to the conflict over Kosovo, a province of Serbia, Yugoslavia's dominant republic.

    A senior Clinton administration official said, however, that the indictment would not preclude future talks with the Serb-led Yugoslav government. The official said Milosevic could signal his agreement to NATO's terms for ending the Kosovo conflict without direct meetings with NATO officials.

    Prospects for a diplomatic settlement were clouded by a stark warning issued by Russia's envoy on the Balkan crisis, Viktor Chernomyrdin.

    In an article written for The Washington Post's op-ed page Thursday, Chernomyrdin said that unless NATO stops bombing Yugoslavia "quite soon," he would advise Russian President Boris Yeltsin to suspend Russia's participation in the peace effort; end all military-technological cooperation with the United States and Western Europe; delay ratification of the START II nuclear arms reduction treaty; and "use Russia's veto as the United Nations debates a resolution on Yugoslavia."

    Chernomyrdin was scheduled to resume talks on a Kosovo peace plan in Moscow Thursday morning with Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott and Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, who represents the European Union. Afterward, Chernomyrdin had been planning to fly with Ahtisaari to Belgrade if Russia and NATO leaders could agree on joint demands to present to Milosevic, but it is unclear now if they will make the trip.

    Officials at tribunal headquarters here in the Dutch capital refused to comment publicly on reports that the indictment of Milosevic would come Thursday, saying only that Arbour will make an announcement at a news conference at 2 p.m. (8 a.m. EDT). But Arbour's threats to take the prosecution of war crimes in Kosovo to the top of the chain of command in Yugoslavia have been frequent and their meaning for Milosevic clear.

    Yugoslav army and Serbian police forces have driven more than 800,000 ethnic Albanian civilians from their homes and lands in Kosovo in a brutal campaign to suppress a separatist revolt by ethnic Albanian guerrillas. Thousands of civilians have been executed, tortured or raped, according to reports from refugees, humanitarian aid workers and journalists.

    The criminal indictment of a sitting chief of state, unprecedented in modern history in peace or war, would answer demands from humanitarian and international justice groups, as well as U.S. and European politicians, that Milosevic be held accountable for his government's actions.

    It was not clear tonight whether war crimes stemming from the 1992-95 war in neighboring Bosnia in which Milosevic sent troops and logistical support to nationalist Serb forces there would form part of any new indictment.

    Milosevic and his government have consistently rejected the U.N. tribunal's jurisdiction and for years have failed to heed international demands, U.N. Security Council resolutions and their own public commitments that major war crimes suspects from the Bosnian war be surrendered.

    NATO diplomats, whose governments publicly support the work of the tribunal, have worried that an indictment of Milosevic would make it even more difficult to forge a credible deal with him to end the Kosovo crisis.

    Suddenly subject to international justice and criminal arrest, the Yugoslav president is bound to feel a heightened sense of encirclement that could stiffen his resolve to reject a face-saving compromise, some officials say. And in any event, Western mediators now will be in the awkward position of negotiating a peace deal with, and accepting the guarantees of, an indicted war crimes suspect.

    According to an official familiar with the tribunal's investigation, at least five grounds for war crimes charges could serve to establish the chain of responsibility leading up to Milosevic.

    The principal allegation is government troops' forced removal of hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanians from their homes in Kosovo, the official said. A second count of the indictment would cover the crime of targeting civilians for artillery shelling, mirroring indictments brought against some Bosnian Serb military commanders in the war there.

    A third count would cover the deliberate separation of men from women and children for the purpose of causing them harm, while a fourth would cover the confiscation of private property in the homes of ethnic Albanians who were forced to flee. A fifth count would cover the deliberate destruction of personal documents held by those who were forced out of the country.

    The pace of preparing an indictment against Milosevic quickened following a tour by Arbour of Western capitals including Washington, Paris, London and Bonn to press for intelligence information that would tie the atrocities being reported by Kosovo refugees to Yugoslav commanders who could in turn be connected to senior political leaders in Belgrade, including Milosevic.

    The indictment of Milosevic and possibly of other Yugoslav and Serbian military and political leaders involved in the Kosovo conflict is not likely to result in arrests or trials any time soon. But it would leave the United States and other NATO countries, at the end of hostilities with Yugoslavia, with the obligation to remand Milosevic to custody in The Hague.

    The experience of the Bosnian peace accords of 1995, which echoed U.N. Security Council resolutions requiring signatories to arrest war crimes suspects, suggests that in the aftermath of a peace settlement in the volatile Balkans, Western governments have been loath to provoke animosity or violence by rounding up major indictees.

    Of those indicted Bosnian Serbs, Muslims and Croats in custody in The Hague, most had surrendered, and the vast majority are low-ranking military officers. Radovan Karadzic, the former Bosnian Serb political leader, and Ratko Mladic, the former Bosnian Serb military chief, are the two most notorious tribunal indictees who remain at large in pacification zones controlled by NATO countries.

    Correspondents R. Jeffrey Smith in Skopje, Macedonia, and Sharon LaFraniere in Moscow contributed to this report.

    © Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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