War Crimes Prosecutor Backs Mass Trial for Serbs Leaders to Be Focus of Arrests

By Tribune, Chicago | The Florida Times Union, May 12, 1999 | Go to article overview

War Crimes Prosecutor Backs Mass Trial for Serbs Leaders to Be Focus of Arrests


Tribune, Chicago, The Florida Times Union


SKOPJE, Macedonia -- As refugees brought fresh reports of atrocities from Kosovo yesterday, the chief prosecutor of the War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague said she favored mass trials of Serbian leaders and commanders found responsible for crimes against humanity.

Justice Louise Arbour did not name suspects who might face such a trial but said that, unlike the experience in Bosnia and Croatia, her investigators would focus their inquiries "up the chain of command" rather than on what she called "low-level perpetrators."

She said that even if Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic made a peace deal with NATO, neither he nor his closest associates would be exempt from prosecution.

"We are aiming at the prosecution of the persons most responsible for the killings, exterminations, rape, torture and deportations," she said.

She also urged U.N. forces in Bosnia to carry out arrest warrants against 26 people already accused of war crimes. She said their arrests would send "a sobering signal to those in Kosovo who still have the opportunity to commit crimes that the international community is serious."

Arbour has battled for years to bring war criminals from the former Yugoslavia to trial. She denied yesterday that without access to Kosovo she had no case.

"Indictments are already possible on the basis of credible evidence from people who could not have been in collusion with each other. We can do without site access," she said.

The Canadian justice has been in Macedonia for two days obtaining the cooperation of local authorities for her team of investigators, who are interviewing the refugees. She said she had received assurances that her teams would be able to enter Kosovo with the first military forces "to conduct forensic research" and gather evidence.

Her war crimes tribunal has issued a warrant on charges of genocide against Zeljko Raznatovic, 47, better known as Arkan. His paramilitary forces were blamed for brutalities in Croatia and Bosnia and are now alleged to spearhead the paramilitary units involved in the worst atrocities in Kosovo.

Prominent Kosovars applauded Arbour's intention to go after Serbian leaders, saying it would be difficult to prosecute the actual killers, rapists and arsonists, most of whom hide their identity behind dark glasses and ski masks.

"Lots of those guys are local hooligans armed by the Serbs over the last years who have joined the paramilitary units and rob, kill and terrorize their ethnic Albanian neighbors from behind masks," said Elegen Saracini, a well known former broadcaster in Pristina who fled to Macedonia.

He said these local gangs, posing as Serb patriots, point out prominent ethnic Albanians and those with money. They also know in which homes young girls live. These local figures temporarily attach themselves to units like Arkan's "Tigers. …

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