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U.N. War Crimes Tribunal Set to Indict Milosevic

Yugoslavia: President to be cited for Kosovo atrocities, sources say. Move may complicate diplomatic efforts.

May 27, 1999|NORMAN KEMPSTER and JANET WILSON | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

UNITED NATIONS — Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic will be indicted on war crimes charges today by an international tribunal, well-informed sources said Wednesday, a step that will increase his isolation but could also complicate diplomatic efforts to end the war in Kosovo.

The U.N. indictment will accuse Milosevic of involvement in killings, rapes and "ethnic cleansing" by Yugoslav forces that have driven most of Kosovo's 1.8 million ethnic Albanians from their homes, two of the sources said.

North Atlantic Treaty Organization officials said a war crimes indictment will intensify Milosevic's international isolation, long an alliance objective. And it could also shore up support for NATO's air war against Yugoslavia in Germany and other member countries that have grown critical of the attacks.

On the other hand, officials said, the indictment will make diplomacy more difficult by putting NATO in the unsavory position of negotiating a settlement in Kosovo with someone who is charged with war crimes. Kosovo is a southern province of Serbia, which is the dominant republic in Yugoslavia.

For the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, this will be the first indictment of a sitting president. If Milosevic is indicted, arrested and found guilty of genocide--the most serious of the possible charges against him--he could be sentenced to life in prison.

In Washington, Clinton administration officials declined to confirm the reports of the indictment before the official announcement from the tribunal, which is based in The Hague. Nor would U.N. officials comment. But sources close to the war crimes panel in Europe, New York and Washington confirmed that the indictments will be handed down. All the sources requested anonymity.

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said the United States and its allies would continue their dual-track strategy of bombing and diplomacy regardless of Milosevic's legal status.

"We all have to continue in every conceivable way to pursue the air campaign. . . . We need to pursue the humanitarian work that we are doing . . . and we need to pursue a diplomatic track," Albright said. "And we need to talk to the people that have some role to play on the Serb side."

Although Albright declined to elaborate, her response seemed to indicate that if Milosevic was pushed to the sidelines, the United States and its allies would try to negotiate with some other Yugoslav leader.

A senior administration official said Washington would deal with whoever is in charge in Belgrade, the Yugoslav and Serbian capital. This official said NATO had never planned to negotiate--in the normal sense of the word--with Milosevic anyway. NATO's conditions for ending its bombing of Yugoslavia are not subject to change, the official said, and so the only choices for the Yugoslav government are to accept them or to continue to be hit by daily bombing raids.

The official said an indictment should "strengthen political and public support in the United States, in Europe and in the world for what we are doing."

Another senior State Department official said: "There is no legal prohibition against dealing with someone who has been indicted. There is a judgmental question there as to whether you want to deal with him, but we haven't made that decision yet."

It is not likely that Milosevic will be arrested soon. Under international tribunal law, once an indictment is signed by a judge, it is sent to Interpol, which notifies countries that they are required to arrest the accused if he or she enters their jurisdiction.

Human Rights Watch applauded the prospective indictment. "We believe it is high time," said Reed Brody, the New York-based group's advocacy director. "There is no doubt that he bears command responsibility for the atrocities" in Kosovo and, before that, in nearby Bosnia-Herzegovina, where a war raged for 3 1/2 years earlier this decade.

The timing of the indictment may be a product of Canadian politics. Louise Arbour, the tribunal's chief prosecutor, has been trying to wrap up indictments against Milosevic and others before quitting in anticipation of being appointed to a seat on the Canadian Supreme Court that will open up Tuesday, according to U.N. and Canadian sources.

The tribunal is known to have considered war crimes charges against Milosevic stemming from the conflict in Bosnia, but it did not indict him during that war. That left Milosevic free to attend 1995 peace talks in Dayton, Ohio, and negotiate on behalf of the Bosnian Serbs at a time when their own leader, Radovan Karadzic, was under indictment.

During the Dayton conference, U.S. officials said Milosevic was both the problem and the solution to the bloodshed in the Balkans. Now the United States and its allies have decided that he is no longer a reliable partner in the search for a solution.

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