Nato 'deliberately attacked civilians in Serbia'

By Robert Fisk

7 June 2000
- Only five days after Nato was "exonerated" by the International War Crimes Tribunal for its killing of civilians in Yugoslavia last year, Amnesty International today publishes a blistering attack on the Alliance, accusing it of committing serious violations of the rules of war, unlawful killings and - in the case of the bombing of Serbia's television headquarters - a war crime.
The 65-page Amnesty report details a number of mass killings of civilians in Nato raids and states that "civilian deaths could have been significantly reduced if Nato forces had fully adhered to the rules of war".
Legalistic in nature but damning in content - the document reminds readers that Amnesty repeatedly condemned Serb atrocities against Kosovo Albanians - the report highlightsinconsistencies and obfuscation by Nato's official spokesmen.
Although Nato told Amnesty that pilots operated under "strict Rules of Engagement", it refused to disclose details of the "rules" or the principles underlying them. The report says : "They did not answer specific questions Amnesty International raised about specific incidents ..."
Amnesty records that Nato aircraft flew 10,484 strike missions over Serbia and that Serbian statistics of civilian deaths in Nato raids range from 400-600 up to 1,500. It specifically condemns Nato for an attack on a bridge at Varvarin on 30 May last year, which killed at least 11 civilians. "Nato forces failed to suspend their attack after it was evident that they had struck civilians," Amnesty says.
When it attacked convoys of Albanian refugees near Djakovica on 14 April and in Korisa on 13 May, "Nato failed to take necessary precautions to minimise civilian casualties".
The report says Nato repeatedly gave priority to pilots' safety at the cost of civilian lives. In several investigations of civilian deaths, Amnesty quotes from reports in The Independent, including an investigation into the bombing of a hospital at Surdulica on 31 May. The Independent disclosed in November that Serb soldiers were sheltering on the ground floor of the hospital when it was bombed but that all the casualties were civilian refugees living on the upper floors.
Amnesty says: "If Nato intentionally bombed the hospital complex because it believed it was housing soldiers, it may well have violated the laws of war. According to Article 50(3) of Protocol 1, [of the Geneva Conventions] 'the presence within the civilian population of individuals who do not come within the definition of civilians does not deprive the population of its civilian character'.
"The hospital complex was clearly a civilian object with a large civilian population, the presence of soldiers would not have deprived the civilians or the hospital compound oftheir protected status." Some of Amnesty's harshest criticism is directed at the 23 April bombing of Serb television headquarters. "General Wesley Clark has stated, 'We knew when we struck that there would be alternate means of getting the Serb Television. There's no single switch to turn off everything but we thought it was a good move to strike it, and the political leadership agreed with us.'
"In other words, Nato deliberately attacked a civilian object, killing 16 civilians, for the purpose of disrupting Serb television broadcasts in the middle of the night for approximately three hours. It is hard to see how this can be onsistent with the rule of proportionality."
On 17 May last year, Nato's secretary general, Javier Solana, wrote to Amnesty in response to its "grave concern" over the TV bombing, stating that RTS (Serb Radio and Television) facilities "are being used as radio relay stations and transmitters to support the activities of the ... military and special police forces, and therefore they represent legitimate military targets".
But at a meeting with Nato officials in Brussels early this year Amnesty was informed that Mr Solana's reference "was to other attacks on RTS infrastructure and not this particular attack on RTS headquarters."
The US Defense Department, Amnesty recalls, justified the television station bombing because it was "a facility used for propaganda purposes" and Amnesty itself says that Tony Blair "appeared to be hinting [in a subsequent BBC documentary] that one of the reasons that the station was targeted was because its video footage of the human toll of Nato mistakes ... was being re-broadcast by Western media outlets and was thereby undermining support for the war within the alliance".
Of the Nato destruction of the train at Gurdulica bridge on 12 April, Amnesty says: "Nato's explanation of the bombing - particularly General Clark's account of the pilot's rationale for continuing the attack after he had hit the train - suggests that the [American] pilot had understood that the mission was to destroy the bridge regardless of the cost in terms of civilian casualties ..."
Nato had not, Amnesty adds, "taken sufficient precautionary measures to ensure there was no civilian traffic in the vicinity of the bridge before launching the first attack".
Amnesty quotes the Nato spokesman James Shea as admitting that the video of the train shown to the press at the time was speeded up (to three times its original speed) because Nato analysts routinely reviewed tapes at speed.
Mr Shea, Amnesty says, "said that the [Nato] press office was at fault for clearing the tape for public screening without slowing it down to the original speed".

Le bombardement délibéré de l'ambassade de Chine à Belgrade !
The Chinese embassy bombing : Truth behind America's raid on Belgrade
The US claimed it was a tragic blunder. But the pinpoint accuracy of the attack was in fact a deadly signal to Milosevic: seek outside help in Kosovo at your peril.
Sunday November 28, 1999 - The Observer

On May 7 this year the B2 - at $44 billion the world's most expensive plane - took off from Whiteman air force base in Missouri, its sleek black belly loaded with missiles, destined for Belgrade. It flew high across the Atlantic and Western Europe before opening its bomb doors over the Adriatic and releasing the most accurate air-drop munitions in the world - the JDAM flying bomb.
The JDAM uses four adjustable fins to control its position, continually checked and re-checked by fixes from seven satellites. It is so precise a weapon it is accurate to a range of less than two metres.
The bombs carried on that B2 rained down over the Serb capital and rocketed towards their target - the southern end of the Chinese Embassy - demolishing the office of the military attache and killing three `journalists'. But the midnight strike was so precise the embassy's north end was untouched, leaving the marble and glass of the front entrance and the ambassador's Mercedes and four flower pots unscathed.
The CIA, US State Department and British Foreign Office claimed the strike had hit the wrong building. It was, they regretted, a terrible mistake. Though America's trillion-dollar arsenal had been deployed, the target had been selected by an intelligence analyst using out-of-date maps. The strike onthe Chinese Embassy came at a bad time for Nato's campaign against Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. Mistaken attacks on convoys of defenceless Albanian refugees had dented Western public opinion's belief in the rightness of the war; now the US war machine had hit the most diplomatically sensitive target possible - by mistake.
But as mobs stormed the US and British Embassies in Beijing, and Chinese President Jiang Zemin refused to take President Bill Cliton's phone calls, an entirely different story was being revealed on the other side of the world.
At the Combined Air Operations Centre (CAOC) in Vincenza in northern Italy, British, Canadian and French air targeteers rounded on an American colonel on the morning of 8 May. Angrily they denounced the `cock-up'. The US colonel was relaxed. 'Bullshit,' he replied to the complaints. `That was great targeting ... we put two JDAMs down into the attache's office and took out the exact room we wanted ... they (the Chinese) won't be using that place for rebro (re-broadcasting radio transmissions) any more, and it will have given that bastard Arkan a headache.'
Last month The Observer raised the first serious challange to the official version of events and claimed the embassy was targeted directly. US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright described it as `balderdash'. Since then, as this paper's journalists have continued to pursue the story, more witnesses have come forward.
The true story - though it is being denied by everyone from Albright, Foreign Secretary Robin Cook and CIA director George Tenet down - is that the Americans knew exactly what they are doing. The Chinese Embassy in Belgrade was deliberately targeted by the most precise weapons in the US arsenal because it was being used by Zeljko Raznatovic, the indicted war criminal better known as Arkan, to transmit messages to his `Tigers' - Serb death squads - in Kosovo.
In the immediate aftermath of the attack there were some among non-US staff who were suspicious. On 8 May they tapped into the Nato target computer and checked out the satellite co-ordinates for the Chinese Embassy. The co-ordinates were in the computer and they were correct. While the world was being told the CIA had used out-of-date maps, Nato's officers were looking at evidence that the CIA was bang on target.
Five weeks ago The Observer reported evidence gathered from sources within Nato - serving military officers who would be instantly sacked if named. Our account was denied by the CIA, by Albright and by Cook, who said there was not a `shred of evidence to support this rather wild story'.
The Observer has gone back to its original sources, and also spoken to other serving officers, from Nato colonels to intelligence officers to a military officer with the rank of a general. All are in agreement. The Chinese Embassy was deliberately bombed.
According to one of these sources, it was the fact that the embassy was being used to rebroadcast signals for Arkan and his White Tigers that swung the argument to hit the embassy. `The fact that it was an operating base for Arkan, an indicted war criminal, was something that convinced the Americans to strike. Had it just been a transmitter for the VJ (the Yugoslav Army), they might have held off.'
Arkan's spectre had come to loom large over the conflict in Kosovo. Indicted for his role in organising death squads in the war in Bosnia, his precise role in Kosovo is still not clear. But investigators working for the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague had good reason to suspect that Arkan's death squads were playing a murderous role in Operation Horseshoe, Milosevic's plan to ethnically cleanse Kosovo of its majority Albanian population.
But whether the signals intercepted were those of Arkan and his thugs or simply the Yugoslav army and police - both also implicated in atrocities in Kosovo - one thing now is clear. Nato was convinced that some of the radio broadcasts they were picking up were coming from within the Chinese Embassy itself.
The subject of intense speculation at the time, it is only now that The Observer has been able to confirm this. Confirmation of the Chinese Embassy's assistance to the Yugoslav war effort came in Paris last week. A senior French Defence Ministry official said bluntly that the building attacked on 7 May had been targeted precisely because it had been rebroadcasting Yugoslav signals - although the French insist they were never told the building was the Chinese Embassy.
`Not one of us had ever imagined this target could have been the embassy. We had been told simply that it was a military target that had been monitored transmitting signals to the Yugoslav army from its basement. It had been described to us as a communications target that would be taken out.' The French, however, are increasingly suspicious of what the Americans really knew. The same source continues: `What the Americans really knew, I wouldn't like to say.'
It is not only The Observer's Nato witnesses who have blown a hole in the CIA's original story - as rehearsed by Albright and Cook that the embassy was bombed by mistake because the agency used old maps of Belgrade to work out its target list. This is a cover story which nearly all experts, including one's of America's most eminent China hands, Ezra Vogel, have judged not credible. The US's own National Imagery and Mapping Agency describes the wrong map story as `a damned lie'.
The claims made by the CIA's director George Tenet to the Congressional Select Committee on Intelligence on 22 July have come under renewed scrutiny - and been found wanting. Tenet told the US Congressmen there were no visible signs that the building was an embassy, no flags and no insignia. But photographs taken in the immediate afermath of the attack show a different story. These pictures show the Red Flag at the main gate and two hoardings covered in Chinese script on the side of the building. The embassy was clearly marked by a sign in Serb saying `Ambasada Narodne Republike Kine' (Embassy of the People's Republic of China) - stark evidence that the CIA chief was not telling the whole truth.
Equally compelling is the fact that the location of the Chinese Embassy in soulless new Belgrade was hardly a state secret. Opposite the Park of Peace and Friendship, the Chinese Embassy at Number 3 Cherry Blossom Boulevard stands mangled by missiles at one end; almost untouched at the other. The sheets that were knotted together to form makeshift escape routes for the diplomats, journalists, spies and other employees trapped inside still hang from the holes that were once the embassy's smoked glass windows, trailing between the white blinds and straggly blue-green curtains that still flap in the wind.
The reception room is still there, laid open to the elements by the bomb that sliced away its outer wall on the building's south side. Its reproduction Louis XIV sofa set stands under a row of gilded chandeliers and faces a hole the size of a crater in the adjacent building that was once the Chinese ambassador's home. That room and those sofas were familiar to Belgrade's diplomatic corps, who regularly met US diplomats at receptions in the building.
Officially the CIA's expla nation for hitting a building, well known to its diplomatic corps, is this: it used a flawed technique for locating the building they were supposed to bomb - an arms agency headquarters.
It is a version of events that no longer appears to stand up to scrutiny. For not only were the embassy co-ordinates in the Nato computer, as the air targeters discovered, but the Chinese Embassy, as has been confirmed to The Observer, had long been a prime target for Western intelligence, and would therefore have been extremely well identified.
The reason for the scrutiny was that for years the Chinese Communist regime has been co-operating with the Serbs in building up its military capability. The eyes and ears of the Western world - the US's National Security Agency and Britain's own GCHQ - were watching and listening.
And there was another issue, as a Nato air controller involved in the campaign made clear. `The Chinese Embassy had an electronic profile, which Nato had located and pinpointed.' According to this source, that data was forwarded to the joint intelligence operational centre at Mons, the headquarters of Nato in Europe. While initial scrutiny by US military and civilian officials showed that the area was part of a park owned by a Yugoslav army officers' fund, more recent maps provided by the Europeans showed the clear location of the embassy. It was on the banned list, according to a senior officer, and needed approval from the US Commander-in-Chief, Bill Clinton, to have it removed from that list and designated as a target.
It is this issue that has become the most contentious one between the US and its European Nato allies, especially France: that America was ordering missions outside of Nato's joint command structure that it kept from its fellow combatants. This month this issue surfaced in a bitter exchange between the two countries: France accusing America of running missions behind its back while America accused the French government of putting Nato pilots' lives at risk by vetoing targets. French officials in the United States - at the UN and in Washington - say privately that their government was `wary in the extreme' at the way targets were chosen by Nato during the Kosovo conflict.
`US Air Force and intelligence services had a direct hot line to the Nato planners in Brussels, but they were making their own selections, irrespective of the joint consultative process,' complained a French diplomat at the UN mission in New York.
Another was more forthright, stating that there was still `very great scepticism' among French diplomats at the CIA's explanation of an erroneous attack: `We still have an open mind,' said one official, `and there is still reason for us to believe that China's role and position in the Balkans could have led to an attack.'
Asked what could have been the motives for a deliberate attack, the official replied: `The possibility that the Chinese were helping the Yugoslavs in a number of ways, including militarily, and concern among American intelligence that China was indulged in a wholesale espionage against America.'
What is clear, however, from The Observer's sources is that the Combined Air Operations Centre at Vincenza was not informed of the targeting plan for the embassy because `all operations with stealth aircraft and other special systems were kept strictly close to the chest by the Americans ... they only told us after the event.'
The question now remains why America might have risked such a controversial attack. `The aim was to send a clear message to Milosevic that he should not use outside help in the shape of the Chinese,' said a Nato intelligence officer.
One source, a senior Nato air force officer, said: `I would lay money that the Chinese civilians killed by the bombing were intelligence officers. The Americans knew exactly what to hit and how to do it ... far from not knowing the target was an embassy, they must have been given architect's drawings.'
An intelligence expert told The Observer: `If it was the wrong building, why did they use the most precise weapons on Earth to hit the right end of that `wrong building'?'

Saturday, January 8, 2000 - The Guardian

NATO killing 'was aimed at civilians'

NATO'S conduct of the Kosovo conflict breached international law, according to a leading human rights group which is drawing up detailed reports to be submitted to the war crimes tribunal in the Hague.
Human Rights Watch, a New York-based group, will accuse NATO of deliberately bombing Serbia's civil infrastructure. It will strongly criticise the use of cluster bombs and allege that NATO bombs killed significantly more civilians than the number claimed by the alliance.
Targets chosen by NATO were "disproportionate and should be found violations of international humanitarian law", the group's executive director, Mr Kenneth Roth, said.
Electricity grids, oil refineries and radio and television stations were among examples cited.
The report will also attack the use by United States and British aircraft of thousands of cluster bombs, many of which lie unexploded in Kosovo, where the group said they were still killing or maiming two civilians a day. Their failure rate is officially admitted to be at least 5 per cent.
Human Rights Watch estimates that about 600 Serbian civilians were killed by NATO bombing, three times as many as the Pentagon has admitted but substantially fewer than the 2,000 claimed by Belgrade.
Though the group does not expect any NATO leader to be charged with a criminal offence, the Hague tribunal is obliged to scrutinise all relevant submissions.
Mr Paul Risley, spokesman for the chief war crimes prosecutor, Ms Carla Del Ponte, said: "It is incumbent on the tribunal to continue its mandate, which covers all the participants in armed conflict in the former Yugoslavia."
However, he stressed that a formal investigation into NATO actions during the Kosovo conflict was unlikely.
The tribunal has already been caught up in a controversy over a separate dossier sent to it last year by a group of international lawyers led by Professor Michael Mandel, of York University in Toronto, Canada.
The dossier accused NATO of "grave violations of international humanitarian law", including "wilful killing". It referred to civilian deaths from NATO bombing raids, including the mistaken attack on a hospital in Nis, central Serbia.
"This is a historic opportunity to demonstrate the even-handedness of international justice," Professor Mandel said after delivering the dossier.
Other international lawyers argued that such statements could be counter-productive and place the tribunal in an untenable position. "The even-handedness we expect of the chief prosecutor does not mean treating allegations equally," Professor Diane Orentlicher, director of the war crimes research office at the American University in Washington, said.
She told the London Guardian that while "problematic aspects" of NATO's conduct merited examination, it was "plainly inappropriate for Del Ponte to focus on shortcomings in NATO's performance when the tribunal can scarcely begin to address the atrocious crimes it was created to prosecute".
The Pentagon argues that attacks on Serbian civil infrastructure hastened the end of the war and thus helped end Serbs' repression of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.
The Washington Post has reported that the US Army spent half-a-billion dollars sending two dozen AH-64 Apache attack helicopters to Albania early last year for NATO's fight against Yugoslav troops in Kosovo. However, the Apaches never fired a shot in combat, it said.
Instead, they had been grounded by Pentagon fears about potential US casualties.
The Post said it had done a detailed reconstruction of the operation based on interviews with more than four dozen pilots and US military commanders in Europe and defence officials in Washington. It showed how White House and Pentagon concerns over the risks of combat could sideline the weapons on which the Government had spent decades and trillions of dollars to acquire and perfect.
The issue was particularly relevant to Kosovo, the Post said. President Slobodan Milosevic's campaign against ethnic Albanians killed 10,000, by US Government estimates, before he withdrew his troops and allowed NATO peacekeepers in.



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