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  •   Indictment Details Case Against Milosevic

    Louise Arbour, chief prosecutor of the UN International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia, speaks during a press conference in The Hague May 27. (AFP)
    By Charles Trueheart
    Washington Post Foreign Service
    Friday, May 28, 1999; Page A1

    THE HAGUE, May 27 A U.N. war crimes tribunal today announced the indictment of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and four other senior officials on charges of crimes against humanity stemming from the conflict in Kosovo, a move welcomed by the United States and other NATO allies but condemned in Belgrade.

    Chief prosecutor Louise Arbour said a tribunal judge had granted her petition charging Milosevic and the others with crimes against humanity in the deportation of more than 700,000 ethnic Albanians from Serbia's Kosovo province and the murders of 340 people, mostly young men.

    Also charged in the joint indictment, the first in history against a wartime chief of state, were Milan Milutinovic, the president of Serbia, Yugoslavia's dominant republic; Vlajko Stojiljkovic, the Serbian interior minister; Nikola Sainovic, the deputy prime minister of Yugoslavia and a close Milosevic aide; and Gen. Dragoljub Ojdanic, chief of staff of the Yugoslav army.

    "Now the world is a much smaller place for them," Arbour said at a news conference here in The Hague, where the six-year-old International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia has headquarters. The indictment was accompanied by a judge's order that the assets of all five in U.N.-member countries and Switzerland be frozen.

    Russia sharply criticized the indictment and said it complicates its already difficult efforts to mediate a settlement of the conflict between NATO and Yugoslavia. Special Russian envoy Viktor Chernomyrdin still plans to travel to Belgrade Friday following a fresh round of talks today with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott and Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, the European Union envoy on the crisis.

    The indictment's number of 340 "identified" civilians known to have been murdered is much lower than broader Western estimates. NATO has put the toll at 4,500, and U.S. Defense Secretary William S. Cohen has spoken of as many as 100,000 deaths. Arbour said the tribunal's evidentiary standards are tougher to meet than those of politicians.

    Milosevic and the others are charged in the indictment with personal responsibility for ordering, planning, instigating, executing and aiding and abetting the persecutions, deportations and murders committed in Kosovo since Jan. 1. All but Sainovic are also charged with command responsibility for the war crimes knowing about the crimes of subordinates and failing to stop them.

    Further charges against them, and against others, and for crimes they may have committed in support of Serb nationalist forces during factional fighting in Bosnia and Croatia from 1992 to 1995 are likely, Arbour indicated today.

    Asked in an interview why she had not been able to muster prima facie evidence for genocide charges convincing proof that the suspects had sought deliberately to destroy or eliminate a specific population Arbour said, "I never overplay my hand. We're not there yet. We're not finished with our work against the accused."

    The evidence that tribunal investigators have collected in and around Kosovo and from NATO countries is "voluminous, abundant," Arbour said, but she said she would reveal only its broad outlines until the prosecutor's office is required to disclose it to the defense in the event of a trial.

    Arbour refused repeatedly to entertain questions about the negative impact the indictment could have on international diplomatic efforts to wrest a Kosovo peace agreement from Milosevic. Officials involved in the diplomatic process are concerned that the tribunal's action might harden Milosevic's already stiff negotiating position, or make it even more difficult to find international support for an agreement signed by wanted men.

    "The evidence upon which this indictment was confirmed raises serious questions about their suitability to be the guarantors of any deal, let alone a peace agreement," Arbour said. "They have not been rendered less suitable by the indictment; the indictment has simply exposed their unsuitability."

    Human rights and international justice groups applauded the indictment, for which they had been clamoring for months, and the United States and other governments did likewise.

    "It will help to deter future war crimes by establishing that those who give orders will be held accountable," President Clinton said during a brief appearance at the front gate of the sprawling, secluded compound outside Jacksonville, Fla., where he and his wife are vacationing. "It speaks to the world in saying that the cause we are fighting for in Kosovo is just."

    Clinton also spoke by phone for about 10 minutes each with French President Jacques Chirac and British Prime Minister Tony Blair about Kosovo and the war crimes indictment, said White House press secretary Joe Lockhart.

    Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright said Milosevic must be taken to The Hague for trial, adding that there should be no possibility of an immunity deal for him as a condition of any peace accord in Kosovo.

    There were a few dissenting voices. French Interior Minister Jean-Pierre Chevenement said the indictment "does not serve peace" and that the tribunal had "a pseudo-moral vision instead of a political one."

    Yugoslav officials repeated their customary refusal to recognize the jurisdiction of the tribunal, which it regards as an instrument of NATO war-making. Goran Matic, a minister without portfolio in the Belgrade government, called the tribunal "a private court" established by the United States and NATO "to destroy the sovereignty and judicial order of other states when they don't like someone."

    In response to questions about the timing of the indictment, Arbour said "criminal charges are not usually good news, and they're never good news for the accused." But she said she had been motivated in part by "real-time" political considerations in pressing for indictment in the five months since January, when Yugoslav army and Serbian police units launched an all-out offensive against secessionist ethnic Albanian guerrillas in Kosovo that included the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanian civilians from their homes and lands.

    The Canadian prosecutor said she was concerned that the potential indictees would be "factually put outside the reach of the law they could disappear" to avoid arrest warrants. The indictment today cut off any immunity option, Arbour said "short of an extraordinary act by the Security Council interfering with the constitution of this tribunal."

    Arbour was asked if she thought any of today's indictees would ever face trial. "I may sound naive, but I would not be in this business if I didn't believe in the law," she said.

    Arbour said she expects U.N. member countries to execute the arrest warrants against Milosevic and the others along with three dozen other wanted men from the wars in Bosnia and Croatia "at the next feasible opportunity" if the suspects do not surrender to the tribunal. The likelihood of either development is next to nonexistent. The tribunal does not try suspected war criminals in absentia. Life in prison is the maximum sentence it can impose.

    The ad hoc tribunal, the first to prosecute war crimes since the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials after World War II, was established in 1993 to investigate charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and other crimes committed during the war that raged among Bosnia's Serbs, Muslim and Croats until 1995. A year later, the United Nations merged into it a twin court to prosecute and try those responsible for the massacre of at least 500,000 people in Rwanda in 1994. Arbour and the nine judges in The Hague are responsible for both tribunals.

    The tribunals have limited personnel and financial resources, so they have had to depend on U.N. budgets and the in-kind contributions of lawyers and investigators from sympathetic countries and nongovernmental organizations. They also lack police or enforcement powers, so they have had to rely on Western governments to carry out arrest warrants.

    In the most politically sensitive cases, notably those of former Bosnian Serb political leader Radovan Karadzic and former Bosnian Serb military chief Ratko Mladic, U.S. and European peacekeeping forces in Bosnia have taken a careful and selective critics say fearful and passive approach to apprehending suspects. Karadzic and Mladic, among others, are at large, and their daily whereabouts are reportedly no secret to those charged by the U.N. Security Council with arresting them.

    The intense drive to deliver an indictment also raised questions here about the chief prosecutor's plans, three years into a four-year term. Arbour, a 52-year-old Quebec-born judge on leave from the Ontario Court of Appeal, is likely to be appointed to the Canadian Supreme Court in the weeks to come, sources say. If she accepts the job, she would have to be ready to hear cases in Ottawa by September.

    Her departure would leave the tribunal, at its most visible moment yet, in search of a new chief prosecutor. The tribunal also will be getting a new presiding judge at year's end, as the incumbent president, former U.S. federal judge Gabrielle Kirk McDonald, has announced her plans to leave, also ahead of schedule.

    Arbour sought the indictment of Milosevic and the four others before tribunal judge David Hunt on May 23, and the next day he granted her request for arrest warrants, the freezing of the assets of the accused, and a lid on a formal announcement until today. She said she had wanted the delay to allow for the safe exit from Yugoslavia of a U.N. humanitarian mission and enough time to inform governments with personnel in Yugoslavia who might be subject to post-indictment reprisals.

    Staff writer Charles Babington in Florida contributed to this report.

    © Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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