Milosevic turns away U.N. rights official

Commissioner planned to present him with evidence of brutality

War In Yugoslavia

May 14, 1999|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia -- Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic refused to meet yesterday with the top United Nations human rights official, who came to confront him with evidence that his military is conducting a vast and brutal expulsion of ethnic Albanians from Kosovo.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, met instead with Foreign Minister Zivadin Jovanovic, who denied the government has a policy of "ethnic cleansing."

About half of Kosovo's 1.8 million Albanians, the U.N. rights agency says, have fled since Milosevic's forces 14 months ago began targeting civilians as well as guerrillas in their crackdown on a separatist movement. Until then, Albanians outnumbered Serbs by a ratio of 9-to-1 in Kosovo -- a province of Serbia, Yugoslavia's dominant republic.

NATO says it is bombing Yugoslavia to halt the crackdown and ensure the refugees' safe return, but the exodus intensified after the allied assault began. Albanians have been streaming out of Kosovo by the hundreds of thousands, telling reporters and aid officials of a systematic purge by Yugoslav army troops and Serbian police.

Arriving here after a tour of refugee camps in neighboring Albania and Macedonia, Robinson urged the authorities to halt what she called "a devastating pattern" of "cold-blooded" abuses.

"When you have such an overwhelming pattern of violations reported by professional monitors, then it's either a deliberate policy or a policy of failing to address that," she said she told Jovanovic.

Milosevic gave no reason for snubbing Robinson, a former president of Ireland.

"I was very anxious to meet him," she told reporters, "because I have had direct witness myself of the human rights violations suffered by a large number of Kosovo Albanians, what drove them from their homes directly, and it has been people in uniform, army uniform, police uniform, paramilitary uniform."

"It has been very brutal in some cases separating menfolk from their families, many of them having their homes burned immediately behind them," she added.

In an interview last month with United Press International, Milosevic conceded that "bad things happened" in Kosovo "as they did with both sides during the Vietnam war." He blamed irregular paramilitary forces for abuses and said some officers had been tried and sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Even so, state-controlled media here continue to insist that NATO bombs and missiles are the only reason people are fleeing Kosovo. That view is shared by many educated Serbs who are able to watch or read Western accounts from the refugee camps.

Robinson said she asked each refugee she interviewed whether it was the bombing that had forced them to leave; each time, "I was told, `No, it was not.' "

Some human rights activists outside Yugoslavia criticized Robinson for wanting to meet Milosevic.

Pub Date: 5/14/99

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