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Kosovo Investigation: Blewitt's Troops Move In

Tribunal Update 129: Last Week in The Hague (7-13 June, 1999)

Last Friday Deputy Prosecutor Graham Blewitt announced that the vanguard of Tribunal's investigators and officials will move into Kosovo at the beginning of this week to coordinate the prompt securing of suspected sites, and to begin gathering evidence.

Following the trail established by testimonies of refugees - who were witnesses or victims of the Kosovo crimes - as well as following the evidence established through air-reconnaissance photographs and other prosecution evidence made available by Western governments over the past weeks and months, the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) identified 16 locations they wish to investigate as soon as possible. Among those are all seven sites of the alleged mass killings quoted in the indictment of the President of

Yugoslavia, Slobodan Milosevic and four of his close collaborators and co-indictees. Those sites are: Racak (45 killed), Bela Crkva (77), Mala Krusa (105), Crkolez (20), Izbica (130), Djakovica (6) and the Qerim district of Djakovica (20).

The Pentagon last week released aerial photographs which indicated that Serbian forces had bulldozed a mass grave site in Izbica, in an attempt to destroy evidence. There were other reports implicating Serbian forces destroying evidence of their crimes systematically in the wake of the indictment of their leaders. Their alleged activities include unearthing mass graves and cremating victims' bodies at Kosovo's Trepca mine and in other locations in central Serbia.

When asked last week whether he was concerned about reports of systematic removal of evidence, the Canadian Foreign Minister, Lloyd Axworthy, answered: "I think there may be too much for them to destroy."

There may be too much, also, for the OTP to investigate, taking into consideration not only the scope of the alleged crimes, but also the scant human and financial resources at the disposal of the Chief Prosecutor, Louise Arbour. The OTP spokesperson, Paul Risley, pointed that out in the last week's regular briefing: "The number of crime scenes, the distances within Kosovo and the scale of the actual atrocities are all so great that we will be required to bring great numbers of investigative teams, personnel and resources to bear on the challenge."

Several countries - United States, Britain, France, Germany, Canada, Norway, and Austria - announced their intention to send to Kosovo their forensic and investigative teams, which are to work together with the OTP.

Louise Arbour is of the opinion that even this much assistance will not be sufficient for an investigation operation of such enormous scope. Last week she officially requested several UN member states to 'loan' the Tribunal about 300 forensic experts and criminal investigators. Her request says that the OTP planned to establish about 12 teams to conduct investigations in Kosovo, preferably before refugees returned to their homes and villages, which most of the crime scenes are located.

According to Arbour's request, it would be necessary to complete investigations at more than 16 sites - though this was only a preliminary estimate - and her office did not have the capacity or the budget for operations on such a scale. That is why she asked governments for a loan of 300 experts in the fields of ballistic and explosives assessment, weapons and munitions identification, forensic pathologists, crime scene assessment, evidence-gathering investigators as well as videotape, photographic and mapping specialists. The UN disclosed last Friday that Secretary-General Kofi Annan sent letters informing presidents of the General Assembly and the Security Council that he was approving the Prosecutor's request.

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