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Yugoslavia: War Crimes Suspects May Be Involved In Kosovo Atrocities

London, 15 April 1999 (RFE/RL) -- British Defense Secretary George Robertson says there is evidence that a Serb paramilitary leader wanted for war crimes in Bosnia-Herzegovina is now involved in atrocities against ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.

Robertson told a Defense Ministry briefing in London yesterday that Zeljko Raznjatovic, who goes by the alias Arkan and who heads a group called the Tigers, has been called on by Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to operate in the southern Serbian province.

"We now have further evidence that Arkan is recruiting volunteers for his paramilitary units, the Tigers. We understand that he's even been scouring prisons in Serbia offering pardons to anyone prepared to join the Tigers and to commit these atrocities in Kosovo. This brutal thug is releasing hardened criminals from Serb jails to terrorize the people of Kosovo and I wonder what the people of Serbia would make of that development if they were allowed to know it. But perhaps even more disturbingly, we understand that another brutal veteran of Bosnian atrocities, General Ratko Mladic, is commanding a gang of paramilitaries in Kosovo."

The allegations of stepped-up Serb paramilitary violence in Kosovo came amid new political talks on the Balkans crisis, and a 22nd night of NATO air strikes against Serb military targets in Kosovo and the rest of Serbia.

EU leaders met in Brussels yesterday to discuss the Kosovo situation. Reports say that Germany is floating an idea for a possible ceasefire, leading to political settlement in Kosovo, but details are unknown. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, who has offered to go to Belgrade as a mediator, was to attend the EU talks.

Yugoslav President Milosevic made a rare public appearance in Belgrade yesterday, meeting his Belarusian counterpart, Alyaksandr Lukashenka.

At the Defense Ministry briefing in London, British International Development Secretary Clare Shore said that NATO officials are hearing increasing reports of the systematic and organized use of rape at a camp at Djakovica in southwest Kosovo near the Albanian border.

She said she wanted to remind Milosevic and those who obey his orders that mass rape has been recognized by the international war crimes tribunal in the Hague, Netherlands, as an indictable offense. The judge who heads the court, Louise Arbour, is due to visit the Balkans region in the next few days.

Short also noted that the UN High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that more than 540,000 ethnic Albanians have fled Kosovo since the crisis erupted 13 months ago. Some 300,000 are in Albania, 120,000 in Macedonia, 60,000 in Montenegro, and 30,000 in Bosnia.

Short said smaller numbers have now moved to Turkey, Greece, Romania, Bulgaria, Germany and Scandinavia.

Since Serb forces in Kosovo closed borders a week ago, concern has grown about the plight of long queues of refugees who were reportedly turned back to the interior.

Short said relief agencies believe there are now more than 800,000 ethnic Albanians internally displaced in Kosovo, many believed to be living in open fields, mountain slopes and forests, without food, medicines or shelter. Short said that NATO must step up its military activities to help the Kosovar Albanians.

"The only way we can bring relief to the suffering people of Kosovo is to speed up the military campaign and reverse the Serb aggression. We must not allow Milosevic to use the suffering he is inflicting on the people of Kosovo to call for some fudge or compromise that enables his ethnic cleansing to be rewarded. The refugees from Kosovo are clear about this, and we must be as clear as they are."

A British defense spokesman, Air Marshal John Day, said British Harrier jets Tuesday night attacked three targets in Kosovo, including a petrol storage facility, a military radio relay facility and a military radar site. He said all aircraft returned safely to base.

Day said the NATO fliers are continuing to target fuel supplies and air defenses within Kosovo and Serbia. NATO military planners estimate that the three-week air campaign has destroyed 70 percent of Yugoslavia's petroleum, oil and lubricants.