PRESS CONFERENCE BY FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF YUGOSLAVIA
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
12 August 1999
A new book released by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia limits its documentation to those war crimes that were committed against civilians during the recent attack by members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the Charge d'affaires of that country said this morning at a Headquarters press conference to launch the book, "NATO Crimes in Yugoslavia, Documentary Evidence". Ambassador Vladislav Jovanovic said a second volume of the book would be published shortly.
"The crime against peace is the greatest crime committed by NATO and its member States", he asserted. "NATO needed to cover its crimes and has been engaged in a fierce anti-Serb, anti-Yugoslav propaganda campaign whose aim was to cover up the massive crimes against the civilian population and divert international attention onto other matters, such as the so-called crimes committed by Yugoslavia's leadership." He said the destruction of all Yugoslavia's radio and television stations had been one way to prevent the truth coming out; even satellite broadcasting had been impossible because the satellite centre had been destroyed at the beginning of the war.
He said 10 of the world's 19 most developed countries had taken part in the aggression and they had "levelled" the industrial/economic capacity of Yugoslavia. Eleven hundred warplanes had been busy against Yugoslavia for two months, with NATO flying more than 25,200 sorties, dropping 25,000 tons of explosives.
Mr. Jovanovic alleged that NATO was unselective not only about victims but about the targets themselves, because 80 per cent of them were civilian. The majority of victims were women, children and the elderly, as well as mothers and newborns. Patients in hospitals were victims, and those moving in refugee columns or staying in refugee camps were targets. Hundreds were wounded or killed, 30 per cent of those killed being children who were 40 percent of those wounded, including Albanians. Journalists were wounded doing their jobs, farmers, vendors, passengers, and those on bridges were deliberate targets, as were homes, roads, railway tracks, oil refineries and economic facilities of vital importance. All were targeted, causing enormous environmental problems not only for the present generation but for those to come as well. Medical, educational and cultural institutions were among the victims of the bombings, as were cemeteries and churches, with the principal targets being electric generators, grids and transmitters along with water supply systems.
"The aim of targeting all those civilian targets was not to diminish or undermine military capacity as claimed", he went on, "but to undermine the morale of the civilian population, to deprive it of its basic necessities and needs, to bring it to its knees and turn it against its own government and to make it an obedient and docile instrument of NATO's policy". The practical
result of all that deliberate targeting of civilians and the civilian infrastructure was enormous environmental pollution and a humanitarian catastrophe of great proportions.
"When I talk of future generations, I have in mind the use of weapons using depleted uranium", the Ambassador said. An American woman was advised by both American and Yugoslav doctors not to go to a meeting in Belgrade because she was in the third or fourth month of pregnancy. Doctors in Belgrade had advised a number of women to terminate pregnancy because of the dangers to unborn babies, and 120,000 women outside Belgrade had been warned about giving birth to defective children. Among the youth, 1,300,000 primary and secondary school children had been deprived of schooling and had ended the year without examinations. It was impossible to summarize what all of Yugoslavia had suffered during the so-called military campaign. He said more than half the casualties in the bombing campaign in Kosovo and Metohija were ethnic Albanians who were the people who were to have been protected by NATO.
Mr. Jovanovic said the United Nations charter had been "snapped", since the unlawful aggression had been launched without authorization of the Security Council. NATO's own statute had been violated because NATO was "a defensive military alliance that can undertake actions only on its own territory, not outside of it". A number of human rights protected by United Nations Covenants had been violated, such by the one on genocide.
For those reasons, he went on, there had been a very loud outcry against NATO aggression. The Government of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia had submitted applications to the International Court of Justice against 10 Member States of NATO: United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Canada, Portugal, Belgium and Holland for violation of the obligation not to use force and to request the documented matters to be indicated. Unfortunately the International Court, itself under heavy pressure from the NATO countries, had declared itself non-competent. There was still hope that the jurisdiction on eight out of the 10 cases would be considered in a later phase.
In addition, the Ambassador continued, some citizens of the aggressor countries had demanded action before national or international courts for war crimes against the population of Yugoslavia, such as a group of lawyers from Canada, United Kingdom, Greece and the United States. An Independent Commission of Inquiry to investigate United States and NATO war crimes against the People of Yugoslavia, presided over by the former United States Attorney General, Ramsey Clark, was also collecting evidence and indicting the 19 leading personalities of the NATO member States.
"Of course, the end of the hot war doesn't mean the end of the war at all", Mr. Jovanovic added, because after the end of the military aggression, NATO States had continued their aggression buy other means such as economic war, a war of propaganda and an underground war through subversive actions.
"This is not the language of peace and cooperation, peace and prosperity for the region", he said. "This is the language of instability and inviting trouble."
NATO countries had been consistent in refusing to accept having waged a war in Yugoslavia, Mr. Jovanovic continued. They claimed to have waged only air strikes or a military campaign against it. To some extent they were right, because any definition of war from time immemorial had meant a meeting of two aggressors eye to eye, face to face. In the case of NATO's aggression in Yugoslavia, there had been no such face-to-face encounter but rather there had been military action with the most sophisticated weaponry against a defenceless and poor country from a distance. It had been an action by an invisible side against a hopelessly visible side on the ground, a new phenomenon in that such a war had never been waged against a country. It was a difficult action to define and if it could not be defined as war, it could be defined only as a deliberate policy of massacring a country and a population.
The Security Council had been requested to distribute the book as an official United Nations document, Mr. Jovanovic said. The aim of the book was not only to help journalists and experts in the national and international courts, but also to allow international public opinion to be better informed about the real truth behind the NATO action in Yugoslavia, so that such arbitrary military action would be prohibited, not only by resolution, because war was already prohibited, but also in practice. "Never again", he concluded, "should NATO or any other military alliance, regional or other, be allowed to treat a people or nation as NATO had treated a poor, sovereign country".
In response to a question on whether the book was expected to sway international public opinion in favour of Yugoslavia's position, Mr. Jovanovic said the propaganda war against his country had deprived it of any opportunity to defend itself. The deliberate policy of vilifying a whole people should be energetically opposed by international public opinion. The list of prohibited activities set out by international organizations and the United Nations included xenophobia, anti-semitism and all forms of racism. "The demonization of a people should be put on that list, because vilification of a people is a form of racism, no less devious and dangerous than any other."
Asked whether he had received any response to his letters about an accord between the United Nations and the Government of Yugoslavia over relations with the administration in Kosovo, Mr. Jovanovic said Yugoslavia had accepted the G-8 proposal that had served as the basis for Security Council resolution 1244 (1999), which Yugoslavia had also accepted. Yugoslavia had implemented its part of the resolution ahead of schedule. Unfortunately, the Kosovo Security Force (KFOR) and the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) had not implemented the provisions related to them.
For example, the Ambassador said, parallel with the withdrawal of the Yugoslav security forces, there was to have been a deployment of KFOR to prevent a security vacuum. Even after two months, the security vacuum had not been prevented. The real master on the ground was not KFOR but an illegal organization, the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), which was to have been barred from Kosovo with its arms. Instead, the KLA's taking over of Kosovo had been tolerated. The deployment of the civilian administration was slow. The police force was almost non-existent, and demilitarization or demobilization of armed parties, which was to have proceeded with extreme speed, had not been treated seriously from the start.
Instead of demilitarizing the KLA immediately, he said, the KLA had been given three months to disarm, opening the way for its armed entrance into Kosovo. The situation was of grave concern because it could get out of control, and that had been the subject of the letters. "If KFOR cannot prevent terror and murder against Serbs, Romas and pro-Yugoslav Albanians, KFOR should either declare itself incapable of doing it or it should call in the Yugoslav security forces to help, so that the situation can be brought under control in a joint manner. That is something within their reach if they want to put security considerations ahead of political ones."
Asked what would happen if the KLA could not be brought under control, the Ambassador said resolution 1244 (1999) had been very clear on the sovereignty and integrity of Yugoslavia being guaranteed, and that the final political solution for Kosovo should be in that framework, not outside it. The KLA had never renounced its objective, which was independence and secession of Kosovo. As such, the KLA was not the one to be given trust by KFOR and UNMIK. If Albanians were to enter into the administration of Kosovo, those distancing themselves from separation should be the "darlings" of the international community rather than the terrorists and separatists.
He said the toleration of the KLA driving Serbs, Romas and even Turks from the province was "extremely disquieting". It was difficult to imagine the situation once Kosovo was 100 per cent Albanian, but it was certain it would not be a time of peace. It was hard to project what the Yugoslav Government would do in such a case, but it would certainly not be acceptance. NATO and those others who had committed themselves to the multi-ethnic, multi- religious, multi-cultural province of Kosovo and Metohija as an integral part of Yugoslavia were risking the loss of any authority if they allowed the KLA or other separatists to triumph.
Asked to differentiate between the KLA and other potential leaders for Kosovo who advocated independence, such as Ibrahim Rugova, Mr. Jovanovic said Mr. Rugova was committed to the political non-violent solution of the problem. Also, he had admitted the necessity of reaching a political settlement within, not outside of, Yugoslavia. He was certainly a man better-placed to deal with than the leader of a terrorist organization who had a record of terrorist activities himself. There were plenty of moderate leaders in Kosovo who could lead the situation to a political settlement, but the terrorists such as Hashem Thaci were being treated as the important ones. "This is not something to encourage moderate Albanians, not to mention Romas, Serbs and others."
Further questioned, Mr. Jovanovic said Mr. Rugova was a man who could accept the evolution of his ideas. He had, for about 10 years, expressed himself as favouring independence for Kosovo, but in talks with Yugoslav officials he had agreed on a set of principles to be followed to achieve political settlement, which had never envisaged Kosovo's secession.
Explaining the environmental situation, Mr. Jovanovic said there were two aspects. One was the environmental pollution that, for example, had made water unsafe for years to come. The other was the use of depleted uranium, a weapon used in Kosovo and Metohija, as well as in Belgrade and Serbia. Those, in addition to cluster bombs, were inhuman means of waging war and were not allowed by international law. The environmental consequences were hard to assess and it would be years before those areas affected would be declared safe.
If the book contained evidence of crimes, had it been sent to the prosecutor in The Hague? a correspondent asked. It had been sent along with much other evidence throughout the war, the Ambassador replied. Mrs. Arbour had publicly admitted receiving numerous requests for action but had never committed herself to any action.
A correspondent asked "if NATO had cracked down earlier, would the Yugoslav government have learned something that would have made them capable of stopping there"? The former Yugoslavia had been dismembered by the combined action of domestic secessionists and foreign Powers, Mr. Jovanovic responded. Germany, Austria, the European Union and later the United States had all been engaged in putting an end to the existence of Yugoslavia as a state. Greater Serbia had been one invention. In the former Yugoslavia, all republics had lived together in a big and relatively prosperous country. The aim of Serbia, he said, had not been the creation of a greater Serbia but of preventing the others from taking Serbs forcibly out of Yugoslavia. "We wanted only a dialogue, negotiation", he said. "Through that, everybody can secede, but it should be a result of agreement and a solving of problems, and not the result of a decision by any part of the Republic of Yugoslavia to secede forcibly, which has been the case because they have been encouraged from abroad to do this."
Asked whether a different course of action back in 1989 might have altered matters, Mr. Jovanovic noted the results of a visit to Yugoslavia in 1990 by the President of the Commission of the European Community, who had been to each of the republics. Among those he met was Mr. Milosevic, who had been the political leaders of Serbia at the time. Everyone had been worried because of the publicly announced intentions of some separatist leaders who had been seeking independence from Yugoslavia. Mr. Milosevic had explained to the President that two things could prevent a break-up. One was to organize democratic elections in all of Yugoslavia rather than in each of its republics, which could only encourage separatist movements, and the second was for the European Community to propose to Yugoslavia that it join the European Community in an accelerated way. So, if all Yugoslavia engaged in internal problems could expect to join the European Union in five or 10 or 15 years, it would diminish internal differences and help to overcome them, in awaiting that better future.
That suggestion had been taken as a joke, Mr. Jovanovic said. So all those who wanted to see all crises in Yugoslavia over the last 10 years as being caused by Serbia were misled. Serbia had not been opposed to Yugoslavia and its interest had not been in keeping Yugoslavia by force. It had been interested in democratizing Yugoslavia as a whole and joining the European Union. Once the secessionist movement started, Serbia's immediate objective was to prevent parts where Serbs were living in Croatia and Bosnia from being taken out of Yugoslavia by force. Those controlling the international media had done their job very well, but that had not helped the whole truth to be seen.
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