Washington, 24 June 1999 (RFE/RL) -- An elite group of American criminal investigators is setting up camp in Kosovo to aid the international probe of alleged war crimes committed by Yugoslav military and Serbian police forces against ethnic Albanians in the province.
The director of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (the FBI), Louis Freeh, said Wednesday that 59 FBI agents will take part in the investigations in the Serbian province.
The NATO alliance officially ended its 78-day air offensive against The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia earlier this week after Yugoslav military and Serbian paramilitary forces withdrew from Kosovo. NATO forces are now deployed in Kosovo to implement a peace agreement and the search for evidence of war crimes has intensified. Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and several of his senior officials were indicted on war crimes charges by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.
At a press conference in Washington, Freeh said: "In the aftermath of the NATO action in the Former Yugoslavia and Kosovo, the province of Kosovo is now one of the largest crime scenes in history. The United States, along with several other countries, has been asked to furnish forensic investigative teams to assist in the collection of evidence and the examination of forensic materials in support of the current prosecution pending against Mr. Milosevic and four other subjects before the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. "
Freeh also reviewed the indictment against Milosevic, saying: "On May 27th, 1999, as you know, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia indicted, for war crimes, Mr. Milosevic and four additional subjects. The specifications charge four particular types of war crimes, crimes against humanity, including murder, deportation, and actions against individuals based on religion, race or ethnicity. "
The team includes criminal investigators, chemists, forensic dentists and other specialists. They are working inside a house where prosecutors allege that 20 people were murdered by Serbian forces in April. The FBI will also excavate another site in the same Kosovo town, Djakovica, where prosecutors allege that six ethnic Albanian men were executed and buried in March.
The FBI agents will be working in the sector of Kosovo that is under the protection of Italy's NATO alliance peace implementation contingent. Freeh explained what the FBI unit will be doing:
"The mission is to locate, map, document and photograph crime scenes, locate, collect and preserve evidence, perform initial examinations of probable victims to identify, at least as best we can, the cause of death as well as the identification of the particular victims."
Freeh said most of the ethnic Albanian victims were Muslim. He said "Most of the victims, as best we can determine, at least in these sectors, are Muslims. And we are working very closely to ensure that anything and everything that we do is in due regard and shows all of the necessary respect and considerations necessary in such a difficult situation. "
The unit will include members of the FBI's Hostage Rescue Team, a highly trained paramilitary unit and crisis response force, whose agents will secure areas in which the investigators and scientific specialists will be working.
The FBI director said the United States has an obligation to assist in the war crimes investigation. He said:
"We have here alleged crimes against humanity on the gravest scale and the victims, just the victims that we know about, were murdered because of their ethnicity, because of their religion and in many cases for no reason at all, except an ethnic cleansing plan which was dictated from the very highest levels of government.
"I don't think whether you are in the United States or in any other part of the world and particularly if you subscribe, as we do, to the United Nations Charter, the rules and principles set forth from the various declarations against war crimes and crimes against humanity, that this type of crime could be tolerated, I don't think it can be tolerated during World War II, I don't think it can be tolerated in Kosovo.
"We have a direct interest as Americans, as citizens of the world, as people who are committed to the rule of law and to fairness and the rights of life and liberty, that this type of crime does not go unaddressed. And if there is no one else able to address it, certainly is no force within that country or the former republic who could or would address this, it has to be done, and done on the scale that I think we are proposing. "