Magazine article The Spectator

The Massacres That Never Were

Magazine article The Spectator

The Massacres That Never Were

Article excerpt

IT was a lonely job, being Prime Minister, rony Blair told the Labour party conference. He had sleepless nights. Sometimes, le said, there were 'life and death decisions to take'; which delicate hint is the closest he has so far come to taking the credit for having fought the war against Yugoslavia - and no wonder. He must realise that Kosovo has not proved to be his Falklands. This is not least because, as the province continues to languish in corruption and chaos, it is now obvious that for Blair's crude Manichaeism during the var was very wide of the mark. But maybe is insomnia is also connected with the 'act that the extravagant claims then made 'or Serb evil are now proving difficult to substantiate.

On 16 May, the US defence secretary William Cohen said that Yugoslav army forces had killed up to 100,000 Albanian men of military age. This number was declared missing, the refugees having all claimed that their menfolk had been separated from them as they fled Kosovo. Tony Blair himself implied that the numbers might be even higher when he wrote in the Times on 5 June, 'We must be ready for what we know will be clear evidence of ... as yet unknown numbers of people missing, tortured and dead.' On 17 June, the then minister of state in the Foreign Office, Geoff Hoon, announced that some 10,000 people had been killed in more than 100 massacres but added, 'The final toll may be much worse.'

As journalists followed Nato troops into the province, the newspapers were strewn with maps showing scores of mass graves. There was particular excitement when 'the biggest mass grave ever' was announced to have been discovered in Ljubenic. It was said to contain 350 bodies, a figure which was blazed across the world's media. Reporting was markedly less energetic, however, when the true figure turned out to be only seven. Billed as the 'biggest mass grave in Kosovo', Ljubenic was in fact not a mass grave at all. Similarly, on 11 October, a spokesman for the International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague announced that no bodies or bones had been found in the mines at Trepca in northern Kosovo: rumours had been circulating in Kosovo that Serbian forces had dumped the bodies of as many as 700 Kosovars into its shafts.

Various experts have confirmed that the more extravagant claims were fantasy. In August, Perez Pujol, a Spanish forensic expert, told El Pais, 'I have been reading the data from the UN. They began with 44,000 deaths. Then they lowered it to 22,000. And now they're going with 11,000. I look forward to seeing what the final count will really be.' The chief Spanish inspector, Juan L6pez Palafox, added, 'They told us that we should prepare ourselves to perform more than 2,000 autopsies. The result is very different. We only found 187 cadavers and now we are going to return [to Spain].' Later the same month, a German doctor who had spent the war in the Stenkovac refugee camp in Macedonia cast light on the allegation that all the men of military age in Kosovo had been murdered. He told Die Welt, 'It was very surprising that a large number of journalists either could not or would not perceive the majority of the people in the refugee camps were men of military age. It was always represented as if there were no men in the camps at all. Even when the journalists were told this they refused to take account of it.'

So what is the final body count? A senior intelligence source in Croatia insists that, with 20 forensic teams active in Kosovo throughout the summer - some 500 professional criminologists altogether - the total number of bodies exhumed in Kosovo to date is 670. …

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