Yugoslavs may face war crimes charges

Commanders may be held responsible for offensive, U.S. government declares

War In Yugoslavia

April 08, 1999|By Tom Bowman and Mark Matthews | Tom Bowman and Mark Matthews,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. government identified nine Yugoslav commanders yesterday who could be charged with war crimes for spearheading the offensive in Kosovo, while NATO missiles once again struck Belgrade, targeting a former army headquarters.

Serbian TV said the missiles struck at the facility located on a main street, near the headquarters of the Serbian government. On Saturday, NATO missiles hit the Serbian and Yugoslav Interior Ministry buildings, which were engulfed in flames.

"This is not a military facility. It is a civilian facility intended for the use of judiciary bodies," Belgrade's Studio B television quoted Dragan Covic, commander of the city's civil defense authorities, as saying shortly after last night's attack.

Earlier yesterday, the United States said it would turn over to the International War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague information on officers who are leading Serbian police and army units reportedly involved in attacks on civilians in Kosovo.

"We are naming the commanders as a warning to them that the world is watching, and that the war crimes tribunal is there and we are going to assist them in this process," said State Department spokesman James Rubin.

Rubin said that the tribunal would decide whether to indict anyone suspected of war crimes, but that the United States would be providing detailed information and names.

He avoided naming Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic as a war criminal. Instead, Rubin reiterated earlier U.S. statements that Milosevic has "political responsibility" for the "ethnic cleansing" campaign in Kosovo, and that it would be up to the tribunal to assign guilt.

Yesterday's announcement was the latest attempt by the NATO alliance to target the Yugoslav military, which has continued its campaign of "ethnic cleansing" despite more than two weeks of allied bombing.

After attacking military headquarters, barracks and armor, the alliance is trying to rattle the officers -- who include one major, seven colonels and a major general -- by warning that they will be held responsible for carrying out Milosevic's policies, much as German officers faced prosecution after World War II for Adolf Hitler's plans.

As NATO began another round of airstrikes last night throughout Yugoslavia, officials said a U.S. Army unmanned reconnaissance plane crashed in Yugoslavia.

The twin-engine surveillance craft, known as a Hunter, is used to transmit video images to battlefield commanders.

Tuesday, NATO forces made what officials called the first "major breakthrough" against the Yugoslav forces in Kosovo.

"We were able to locate and attack several units," said British Air Commodore David Wilby, a NATO spokesman. "In one attack, we were able to drop weapons on a column of between seven and 12 vehicles."

The sorties were carried out by U.S. A-10 Warthog tank-killing planes and fighters flown from the carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, as well as F-14 Tomcats and F/A-18 Hornets.

One NATO officer cautioned that Yugoslav forces are hiding in the forests, towns and cities -- concealing their armor and tanks in garages, homes and monasteries -- to avoid detection.

Wilby said the allies would continue to ferret out Yugoslav army and special police units in an area of southern Kosovo that the allies are terming "the engagement zone." Defense Secretary William S. Cohen, after meeting with NATO officials in Brussels, said the allies are moving "into a much more aggressive air campaign."

"The A-10 attack aircraft are going to target the tanks," Cohen said. "We will be sending Apache helicopters into the region, which are very capable tank killers. We will start to take the battle as such to the individual units on the ground through this air campaign, which will be intensified in the coming days and weeks."

Besides the attack helicopters, which aren't expected to arrive for at least another week, Pentagon officials say they might add more fighter aircraft and bombers to the allied force, which already has some 600 support and attack aircraft.

The allies continue to strike at various Yugoslav targets -- from fuel and ammunition depots to communications facilities, bridges and roads -- in an attempt to slow the advance of forces and prevent resupply. In addition to those targets, two military barracks in Kosovo were struck at Prizren and Urosevac, said Pentagon officials.

"Our indications are that it is starting to affect the [Serbian] units," said U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Charles F. Wald, vice director for strategic plans and policy for the joint chiefs of staff. "It has been more difficult for them to find [fuel]. It has been limiting their capability to move around as they desire, and it is starting to have an effect."

Despite a unilateral cease-fire announced Tuesday by Milosevic, Serbian army and special police units continue to conduct operations in the southwestern portion of Kosovo, trying to defeat the remaining forces of the Kosovo Liberation Army, NATO officials said.

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