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Western Press Review: Evidence Of War Crimes In Kosovo Mounts

Prague, June 18 (RFE/RL) - Several Western commentators and analysts -- probably the forerunners of a score of commentators yet to come -- take on today the topic of war crimes evidence in the aftermath of the Kosovo crisis.


The Times of London carries a news analysis by staff correspondent Michael Evans on the scene in Pristina. Evans says he has seen evidence that constitutes "proof" of Serbian crimes. He writes in part: "There are just 17 concrete steps down into the dark, evil-smelling medieval torture chamber beneath the Serb Ministry of Interior police (MUP) station, but it must have been a terrifying descent for the hundreds of ethnic Albanians -- men, women and children -- who were dragged from their homes and brought here for interrogation."

The writer continues: "The most chilling instrument of torture, however, is in the room next to the chamber. It's the first thing you see when you turn the corner on the way down. It's a simple bed with a basic metal frame but at the head on the right there is a leather strap for restraining the victims. A bullet-riddled mattress lies on the bed beside it. You can hear the cries of agony, although the cellar is deathly quiet."

Evans judges the departed Serb MUD officials and declares them guilty. "There are so many individual items left by the torturers and the tortured that it is possible to build up in your mind the history of this hideous place during the past few months. [These artifacts] now lie there as proof that [Yugoslav] President [Slobodan] Milosevic's agents of violence have been persistently abusing their fellow human beings merely because of their ethnic origin. It's the clearest evidence of a brutal Balkans apartheid regime."


The Danish daily Information warns in an editorial against making the understandable leap from indicting individuals and even groups into the error of indicting whole classes of people. It says: "The term 'collective guilt' of crimes against humanity is -- and always has been -- unacceptable when the time comes for the victors in a war to clean up the mess, regardless of how terrible the crimes committed by the villains, in the case of a war collectively known as the enemies. This was true of the ordinary Germans under Hitler, and is certainly valid for the millions of Serbs that for a decade have been silent witnesses to Slobodan Milosevic's crimes against the Bosnians and the Kosovo Albanians. The responsibility for and the guilt of these crimes belongs alone to those who gave the orders and to those who implemented them in practice. No people collectively can (fairly) be taken to court and tried."

The editorial also addresses the objection that "when the good remain silent, the evil reign." It says: "Both the Germans [then] and the Serbs now were under the influence of an irrational nationalistic campaign and under the boot of a demagogic leader. The Germans might have opposed Hitler more vehemently, and the Serb voters may have voted otherwise [during the past ten years]. Both have been punished enough. The Allies bombed Germany into destruction, and NATO did the same with Yugoslavia for 77 days."


In a news analysis, correspondent Stefan Wagstyl of the British economic newspaper, The Financial Times (F803), says the war crimes investigators will concentrate, among other sites, on the southern Kosovo village of Bela Crvka, which, he says, witnessed "one of the most notorious acts of which Serb security forces stand accused." He writes: "The prosperous-looking [community] was the scene of the massacre of an estimated 77 men, women and children, allegedly shot by Serb security forces in the early hours of March 25, soon after the start of NATO bombing. [This] mass murder is one of the seven alleged crimes on which Slobodan Milosevic, Yugoslav president, has been indicted."

In an editorial published along with its correspondent's report, The Times urges Western leaders to stand firm against any effort to weaken the conditions agreed by Belgrade to end the bombing. The London newspaper says: "There must be no deviations from the Kosovo peace deal. As troops and returning refugees confront the horror of Kosovo's bloodied and burning landscape, some of the Serb military whose 11-week murderous rampage is believed to have claimed at least 10,000 lives have been trying to renegotiate the withdrawal terms imposed by NATO. Encouraged by one concession from the Allies' KFOR command -- permission for 700 Serb troops to delay their scheduled withdrawal from the Kosovar capital, Pristina, by 24 hours -- some Kosovo-born Serb police asked for another. They said on Tuesday that they wanted to discard their uniforms, go back to civilian life, and stay in Pristina as if nothing had happened. The initial response of one senior British source to this suggestion was that it would be a matter for negotiation. It must not be."

The newspaper says: "The grisly evidence now being unearthed every hour, in every town and village, about the crimes of local militias prove how wrong it would be to weaken. [Any] compromise with any of its perpetrators would not only traumatize survivors still further, but amount to collusion."


Writing in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, editorial director Josef Joffe carries the thought higher. Don't give way to Russian President Boris Yeltsin's grasping for a Russian Sector in Kosovo, Joffe says. It isn't just a matter of face-saving, he warns. Joffe writes: "Their real if hidden agenda would be logical enough. They want to convince Milosevic to accept them as his protector, to present an option for rebuilding Kosovo with a purely Serbian zone, to counter the apparent NATO plans to act as neighborhood cop for at least some new parts of the world."

Joffe writes: "[U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine] Albright and her fellows have to persuade Moscow that working together, not fighting each other, will serve its best interests. The Russians should still remember what happened the last time they got their own zone. That was in Germany, where the post-war sectors became permanent East-West divisions that led to 40 years of cold war and the downfall of the Soviet Union. Creating a sequel -- son of cold war -- won't do a thing to help Russia regain its old status."