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POLITICS-UN: Annan Condemns Yugoslav Atrocities in Kosovo

UNITED NATIONS, Oct 5 1998 (IPS) - The U.N. Security Council prepared its response to the growing crisis in Kosovo Monday and Secretary- General Kofi Annan presented a report detailing increasing brutality in the Yugoslav province.

“It is clear beyond any reasonable doubt that the great majority of (atrocities) have been committed by security forces in Kosovo acting under the authority of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia,” Annan told the Council in his report. “It is the duty of security forces to give equal protection to all citizens, not to intimidate or murder them.”

However, Annan – who was required to report to the Council Monday on whether Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic had complied with U.N. demands to end atrocities by security forces in Kosovo – refrained from any opinion about whether or not Belgrade had violated Security Council resolutions.

“Unlike reports to the Council on missions or operations where the United Nations has a direct political presence on the ground, I do not have the means necessary to provide an independent assessment of compliance,” Annan wrote.

The report was being closely studied by the Council, whose five permanent members – Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States – are divided on the Kosovo crisis.

Britain and the United States earlier had pushed for the use of force – including possible air strikes – to force Yugoslav troops to withdraw from Kosovo, while Russia and China opposed such a move and France insisted that the Council approve any use of force by issuing a new resolution.

Each side could argue that Annan’s report bolstered their own case. Washington and London could point to Annan’s account of several murders and disappearances among Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian majority and his warning that, “if the present state of affairs persists, thousands could die in the winter”.

Russia and China, however, could argue equally that the secretary- general had shied away from declaring that Milosevic has not complied with a Council resolution calling for an end to the crackdown in Kosovo. Instead, Annan wrote, “the Council may wish to make its own judgment in this respect on the basis of the present report.”

The Council was expected to take up the report Tuesday and to decide later in the week how to respond. But already the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) had begun preparations for possible military action and Annan’s description of ongoing violence could boost U.S. President Bill Clinton’s drive for the use of force.

“Fighting in Kosovo has resulted in a mass displacement of civilian populations, the extensive destruction of villages and means of livelihood and the deep trauma and despair of displaced populations,” Annan wrote. “Many villages have been destroyed by shelling and burning following operations conducted by federal and Serbian government forces.”

The United Nations said that as many as 7,000 buildings in 269 villages had been damaged or destroyed by mid-September, and estimated that, at that rate, some 9,000 home might be uninhabitable by mid-November. The Office of U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Sadako Ogata estimated at least 200,000 Albanians had fled their homes in the recent fighting, and were suffering from the onset of severe weather.

In a report released here Sunday, Human Rights Watch accused Yugoslav army units of executing civilians, systematically destroying civilian property and attacking aid workers. The report said that at least 100 ethnic Albanians have “disappeared” in Kosovo since Febrary, about half of whom were last seen in the custody of the security forces.

“It’s been clear for seven months that the government is conducting a brutal war against civilians in Kosovo,” said Holly Cartner, Human Rights Watch’s executive director for Europe and Central Asia. “The atrocities we see today are taking place because the West failed to respond forcefully enough to Serb aggression from the very beginning.”

Ironically, the build-up of U.S. and European rhetoric about the use of force came at a time when the Yugoslav troops in Kosovo began pulling out. After three months of harsh attacks against the separatist Kosovar Liberation Army, Belgrade declared victory last week and began returning troops to their barracks.

Such a withdrawal could help Milosevic escape any military retribution for now. Another factor potentially holding off any planned attack was the opposition Clinton faced in the Republican- dominated U.S. Congress, which already had cast doubt on the timing of any military strike in light of upcoming elections and the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi warned Sunday that although Congress has wanted Washington to take action in Kosovo, it was suspicious of any use of force “so soon before the elections”.

Also on Sunday, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev visited Milosevic in Belgrade and warned in a joint statement that any NATO intervention would be “politically irresponsible”.

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