Milosevic to face a tribunal?
The war is fought in the skies and rolling hills of Kosovo. The witness accounts are told in the squalid refugee camps of Albania and Macedonia.Skip to next paragraph
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But one of the most important decisions in the coming weeks will come from a prosecutor's office in The Hague, where the International War Crimes Tribunal is deciding if it will indict Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.
If Mr. Milosevic is charged with war crimes, the nature of this war, now in its fourth week, will dramatically change. There will likely be no more negotiations, no more half-measures, and almost no possibility of a clean surrender from the Yugoslav side.
As one independent analyst in Belgrade says, "Serbia will become one big fortress. The borders will be closed. Milosevic will live in a bunker and take as many people with him as he can. The Army will fight to the last man."
It could lead to an ending, the analyst says, much like that of Hitler's Third Reich.
While NATO-country officials have made broad accusations against Milosevic, it is unclear how much evidence they have against the Yugoslav president and commander in chief.
The Serbs have been accused of ethnic cleansing, systematic rape, summary executions, and even genocide. But while atrocities have most likely occurred, many of the accusations are based solely on the accounts of ethnic Albanians who have fled the country - evidence that would be unlikely to hold up in a conventional court.
Nevertheless, there is increasing pressure from Western capitals to "go for" Milosevic, who could be prosecuted based on the control he is assumed to have over his forces. The words from the West are getting stronger each day.
"I think Milosevic should be declared a war criminal," says a US diplomat who left Yugoslavia before the airstrikes. "We should go in and get him, and he should be put to death."
International officials have had virtually no access to Kosovo, Serbia's southern province, since the bombing campaign began. In addition to collecting eyewitness accounts from refugees in Albanian and Macedonia, they have been taking surveillance photos, some of which they say indicate mass graves in Kosovo.
They have already handed over the names of at least 10 Serb military and police officials who have been spearheading the campaign in Kosovo.
Yugoslav authorities do not recognize the jurisdiction of the United Nations-sponsored tribunal, which they say is politically motivated. Furthermore, their Constitution does not allow extradition.
They previously have refused to turn over three Serbs accused of committing atrocities in the war with Croatia. Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and Gen. Ratko Mladic, the two top suspects from the war in Bosnia, also remain at large.
But Milosevic, and his possible indictment, makes the others look insignificant in comparison.
If indicted, he would not be able to leave the country without facing arrest. International officials would not even shake his hand - much less negotiate with him.
In the 1995 Dayton peace accord ending the war in Bosnia, Milosevic was considered necessary for regional stability and was allowed to negotiate on behalf of the Bosnian Serbs and their leader, Mr. Karadzic. In this case, it is unclear who would negotiate for the Serbs if Milosevic were indicted. There are virtually no viable alternative leaders here.
Under such circumstances, it is difficult to envision how peace would be restored to Yugoslavia - short of a NATO occupation.
Officials at The Hague have been collecting evidence from NATO officials, but they remain tight-lipped about possible indictments. "It's a question of evidence," says Graham Blewitt, a war-crimes prosecutor. "If we have the evidence, we will prosecute. That's regardless of the position the accused may hold."
Last week, however, Louise Arbour, the tribunal's chief prosecutor, made her strongest hint to date that Milosevic is under consideration.
"It would not be candid to say I did not see a possibility," she said during a visit to Brussels, aimed at improving methods for collecting evidence.
On the flip side, if The Hague does not prosecute Milosevic, its authority would surely come under question. The tribunal was established in 1993 to prosecute war crimes in the former Yugoslavia. It has indicted more than 80 suspects; six have been convicted, and one acquitted.
Efforts to create a worldwide court were headed off by the United States, which was apparently worried that US soldiers would become vulnerable to prosecution.
Rumors have persisted for years about the tribunal's possible indictment of Milosevic. But his earlier role in Bosnia and Croatia was somewhat unclear, with all the atrocities having taken place outside of Serbia.
Such is not the case, however, with Kosovo, where massacres of ethnic Albanian civilians have been well documented since the fighting began early in 1998.
Many of the worst atrocities are believed to have been carried out by paramilitary groups - but they admittedly are working under orders of the Yugoslav Army, which, according to the Yugoslav Constitution, Milosevic heads.
"The men who are committing war crimes in Kosovo should think again," says Doug Henderson, the British Armed Forces Minister. "And so should Milosevic."