Investigators to enter Kosovo seeking war crimes evidence

NATO offers aid to allow inquiry to start quickly


PARIS -- Investigators of the international tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands, are preparing to enter Kosovo with the multinational peacekeeping force to ensure that they can gather the freshest possible evidence of war crimes, tribunal and Western officials say.

The details of how they will travel and where they will go are still being worked out, the officials said. But Louise Arbour, the chief prosecutor of the tribunal, has received promises from NATO headquarters that its forces will provide logistical support, such as providing security and clearing mines at sites where investigators need to work.

Britain has offered to escort investigators as its troops enter Kosovo to help them start their inquiries immediately.

"We do want to see tribunal investigators go into Kosovo hard on the heels of NATO," said Charles Haye, a Foreign Office spokesman in London.

If the plan is followed, it will introduce a new and more urgent approach to the court's work. In Bosnia and Croatia, where the tribunal has recorded war crimes, court staff have also received some help from the international forces once they were in place. But the investigators often reached witnesses or burial sites months or even years after the violent incidents they were investigating.

Several countries, including the United States, Britain, France and Germany, have also pledged to send national teams to assist the tribunal.

A British government spokesman said that London had put together a team of 15, most of them forensic specialists. In Paris, a spokesman at the Foreign Ministry said that France was providing at least a dozen ballistic experts, forensic doctors and police photographers to assist inquiries.

Evidently, the court already has considerable evidence of crimes against humanity in Kosovo, part of which was used to support the recent indictment of Slobodan Milosevic, the Yugoslav president, and four of his top officials. The indictment describes numerous incidents of brutality as well as the mass execution of hundreds of civilians and the forced deportation of 740,000 ethnic Albanians.

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