Prosecutor favors mass trials of top Serbs

Even peace won't protect Milosevic, says prosecutor at War Crimes Tribunal

War In Yugoslavia

May 12, 1999|By CHICAGO TRIBUNE

SKOPJE, Macedonia -- As refugees brought fresh reports of atrocities from Kosovo yesterday, the chief prosecutor of the War Crimes Tribunal said she favored mass trials of Serbian leaders and commanders accused of being 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-Herzegovina 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 key 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 United Nations forces in Bosnia to carry out arrest warrants against 26 people 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 judge has been in Macedonia for two days obtaining the cooperation of local authorities for her 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 in The Hague, seat of the Dutch government, has already 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 allegedly spearheading 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 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 refugee in Macedonia who is a well-known broadcaster in Pristina, Kosovo's capital.

He said these local gangs, posing as Serbian patriots, point out prominent ethnic Albanians and those with money. They also know in which homes young girls live. Arkan is being sought on old arrest warrants from Sweden, Switzerland and Germany. The charges include robbery, extortion, drug smuggling and murder.

The warrants date back to the late 1970s and 1980s when Arkan was a leading figure in what was then called the Yugoslav Mafia. He reinvented himself as a Serbian patriot in 1990 when he led his black-clad Tigers into Croatia and Bosnia. In recent years, he metamorphosed into a businessman. Today he owns a casino, a hotel, soccer club and other interests.

Arkan's Tigers and other paramilitary units typically follow regular Yugoslav forces into Kosovo villages, refugees say. Once the regulars move on, the "specials" launch their terror tactics aided by local Serbs.

At Cegrane, a tent city at the foot of a circle of snow-capped mountains 45 miles east of Skopje, new refugee arrivals allege that the atrocities and brutalities continue in Kosovo unabated.

Women said it was common for the Serbs to insert a hand grenade in a baby's diapers with the threat: "Give us your money or we'll pull the pin."

Pub Date: 5/12/99

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