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Yugoslavia: Kosovo War Crimes Will Be Reported To Hague Tribunal

Brussels, 29 March 1999 (RFE/RL) -- NATO spokesman Jamie Shea says cases of alleged atrocities in Kosovo will be forwarded to the International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague and anyone identified as being responsible will be indicted as a war criminal.

He told a press conference in Brussels (March 27) that unconfirmed reports suggest that a new "ethnic cleansing" operation by Serb paramilitary forces may be under way directed at the ethnic Albanian population of the south Serb province.

The NATO spokesman said OSCE monitors on the border between Kosovo and Albania have reported that a large number of Albanian women and children have been "pushed over the border by Serb paramilitary forces in the last couple of days, very ominously without any men."

Shea said: "It's a significant number of people, which suggests that an ethnic cleansing operation is under way. Indications suggest dark things are happening."

He said reports of a new wave of killings, looting, harassment and intimidation in Kosovo was one of the main issues on the agenda of a meeting of NATO ambassadors earlier today. The envoys were briefed about the latest round of NATO air strikes last night aimed at deterring further Serb reprisals, and to prevent what Shea called "a humanitarian catastrophe."

Tens of thousands of Albanian refugees are said to have fled to neighboring countries -- including Macedonia -- in recent days. Yugoslav Army forces are said to have reinforced the Macedonian border.

Shea said the NATO ambassadors were concerned about mounting reports of continued reprisals by Yugoslav special police and army activists in Kosovo, particularly of "sweep" operations in northern and central Kosovo.

"We are alarmed in the alliance by reports coming in from a variety of different sources concerning killing, looting, harassment and intimidation of ethnic Albanians," he said.

But Shea stressed that at this stage these reports are "unconfirmed."

He said there are reports that armed Serb civilians are blocking all access to the Kosovo capital, Pristina, and that there have been door-to-door operations in which men have been separated from their families, and taken away to undisclosed destinations.

He said the NATO ambassadors meeting was of the opinion that any evidence concerning alleged harassment, killings and atrocities should be passed to the Hague tribunal, which has hitherto focused on human rights violations in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

He said: "Any individuals identified as being responsible for these acts will be indicted as war criminals and will be brought before the Tribunal." He noted that the U.N. Security Council resolution which established the war crimes tribunal in May, 1993, called for no statute of limitations, meaning that alleged war criminals could be brought to justice at anytime for the rest of their lives.

He also said that the NATO allies are determined to press on with Operation Allied Force until its essential objectives are achieved. He said, "It is a humanitarian objective which we are obliged to pursue with military means." But he said there are no plans to send NATO ground forces into Kosovo.

British air commodore David Wilby, speaking for NATO's military strategists, said over the past 24 hours allied air forces had continued to degrade the Yugoslav republic's integrated air defense system, and its command and control logistics.

He said NATO planes have shot down five Yugoslav military aircraft with no losses.

Shea said as the air operation evolves, the NATO allies will be in an increasingly good position to severely disrupt the operation of the special police forces in Kosovo.