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Yugoslavia: Canadian Officials Disagree Over Role In Kosovo

Canadian parliamentarians are witnessing a candid debate between senior diplomats about the validity of the NATO alliance air offensive against the armed forces of Serbia and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in defense of Kosovar Albanians last summer.

Ottawa, 17 February 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Canada's former ambassador to Belgrade says the Canadian government was involved in "war crimes" by participating in the NATO bombing in Serbia. But Canada's current ambassador says the air campaign was necessary to prevent mass murder.

The contradictory testimony by the two diplomats surprised the parliamentary committee which has been holding hearings about the NATO bombing campaign and the current situation in Kosovo. Bill Graham, chairman of the House of Commons standing committee on foreign affairs and international trade, said after the meeting that "even when we've had previous ambassadors, there has not been that degree of opinion."

Former ambassador to Belgrade James Bissett said bombs are not dropped for humanitarian reasons. He charged that NATO used Belgrade's oppression of the Albanian majority in Serbia to maintain the integrity of NATO on the eve of its 50th birthday and to show the world there was a reason for NATO's existence.

However, the current envoy to Belgrade, Raphael Girard, vigorously defended the NATO action. He said that without NATO intervention Serbian forces would have cleansed Kosovo of its ethnic Albanian population.

He said, "I have no doubt that had NATO failed to act we would have witnessed an episode of ethnic cleansing on the same scale or even greater than that which eventually took place last year."

Bissett has been waging a solitary campaign against Canadian foreign policy in former Yugoslavia ever since the bombing began last March. Last month, while in Belgrade for a conference, he was refused entry to the Canadian embassy when he tried to visit former colleagues.

He told the committee that "it is a comfort to know that although I was not allowed to speak to anyone in the Canadian embassy in Belgrade during a recent visit there, I am free to speak to members of the Canadian Parliament."

Girard responded by saying that the Canadian government barred Bissett from the embassy because it was afraid that "the regime of Slobodan Milosevic would use Bissett for propaganda purposes." Canada is one of NATO's 19 member states. It was also one of the founding members of the military alliance in 1949.

At present, ambassador Girard is in Ottawa because of Canada's opposition to the Milosevic regime.