Serb General Blames NATO for Kosovo Casualties

Serbs and Albanians fled their homes because of NATO attacks, Vladimir Lazarević tells court.

Serb General Blames NATO for Kosovo Casualties

Serbs and Albanians fled their homes because of NATO attacks, Vladimir Lazarević tells court.

The man who commanded Serbia’s army in Kosovo during the war against separatist rebels denied this week that troops had forced Albanians from their homes, blaming NATO for the civilian casualties and the refugees.



General Vladimir Lazarević is standing trial in The Hague together with former Serbian president Milan Milutinovic, former vice-president of the Yugoslav government Nikola Sainovic, Yugoslav army generals Dragoljub Ojdanic and Nebojsa Pavkovic and Serbian police general Sreten Lukic.



The six are accused of responsibility for the killing of hundreds of Kosovo Albanians and the forcible transfer of 800,000 others in the first half of 1999.



In March 1999, NATO started bombing selected targets in Serbia in an attempt to stop the exodus of Kosovo Albanians. The campaign ended three months later, on June 11, 1999.



As he testified in his own defence this week, Lazarevic denied having ordered his troops to use murder, rape, harassment, destruction of property and other forms of intimidation to force Albanians to leave the province, which Serbia did not want to lose control of.



Asked by the defence attorney whether deportation of civilians was a reasonable act, he replied, "Not only is it not reasonable, but it is unacceptable."



“Both Serbs and Albanians were leaving their homes due to daily NATO attacks,” he said, adding that his units strictly obeyed the rules of war and did their best to help the surviving civilians, to enable evacuations and to even give blood transfusions.



"I personally ordered my commanders to leave all of their ongoing actions and get engaged in helping the wounded.”



Lazarević also said his troops were tasked with defending the country from NATO’s aggression and expelling the NATO forces. Of the more than 2,000 NATO attacks in the Kosovo region, he said 37 per cent were deliberately aimed at civilian targets.



The tribunal has already heard testimony from Milutinović’s, Šainović’s and Ojdanić’s defence witnesses. Ojdanić and Pavković relinquished their right to testify in their own defence.



Some of Lazarević’s testimony this week appeared to be contradictory, which was noted by both the judge and the prosecution, especially with regard to the relative commanding roles played by the interior and defence ministries.



"The ministry of internal affairs was coordinating the military corps’ actions in Kosovo,” said Lazarevic one point. “The ministry of internal affairs most certainly issued orders to military units."



But later, during cross-examination, he told the court, "There were no particular plans of actions issued by the [interior] ministry."



Momčilo Bakrač, Lazarević's lawyer, denied a mass campaign of terror had been unleashed in Kosovo.



"Although crimes did happen during the Kosovo war, they were isolated and individual acts, and by no means systematic," he said.



Lazarević said operations in Kosovo during 1999 were intended solely to defend the province against Albanian terrorist organisations in the regions of Podujevo, Dragobilja and Drenica, and to, in his words, "neutralise terrorist actions" and "to clear the region of Albanian terrorists".



Marija Radovanovic is an IWPR journalist in Belgrade.
Serbia, Kosovo
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