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Posted Wednesday, June 9, 1999

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Wednesday, June 9, 1999

Belgrade: War Crimes Group Ponders Air Strikes


THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) -- A group of independent lawyers pressed the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal Wednesday to investigate allegations that NATO committed war crimes in the bombing campaign against Yugoslavia.

Chief prosecutor Louise Arbour met privately with lawyers from Britain, Canada, Greece and Switzerland to discuss evidence they claimed showed that the alliance violated "international criminal law in causing civilian death, injury and destruction" in bombing that began March 24.

The tribunal has focused its actions so far on the behavior of Yugoslav forces and the country's leaders, indicting President Slobodan Milosevic and four senior associates. But U.N. court has made it clear it also will evaluate the credibility of any evidence implicating the Western military alliance.

"No person is excluded from the authority of the tribunal," tribunal spokesman Paul Risley said.

Arbour and the lawyers discussed the formal launching of an investigation, Risley said. He did not elaborate on what kind of evidence, if any, the tribunal might have in hand.

The group made the presentation on behalf of unspecified peace groups, the Movement for the Advancement of International Criminal Law in Britain, and the American Association of Jurists.

Included in the presentation were allegations against President Clinton, Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair and NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana.

"We have plenty of compelling evidence of war crimes committed by the bombing of Yugoslavia," said one of the lawyers, Alexander Lykourezos of Greece.

He said the charges involved "the mass destruction of the civil infrastructure and general destruction of country" and specifically stemmed from the bombing of bridges and a building that housed Serbian television.

The meeting came as the tribunal prepared to send its investigators for the first time into Kosovo along with a peacekeeping force. The investigators will be gathering evidence of Yugoslav war crimes to buttress reports from refugees of widespread murder, rape and plundering.

An accord reached in Germany on Tuesday gives the tribunal safe and swift access to Kosovo once the peacekeepers can remove mines and booby-traps left behind by departing Serb forces.

There was no immediate reaction from NATO.

It appeared unlikely the tribunal would do any more than the World Court, which last week dismissed as unfounded Belgrade's contentions that the NATO bombing raids amounted to a genocidal campaign.

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