June 10, 2000 International Tribunal for U.S./NATO warcrimes in Yugoslavia
THE ROLE OF THE CANADIAN GOVERNMENT IN THE INTERVENTION IN YUGOSLAVIA
by Scott Taylor
Scott Taylor is a former Canadian soldier who now publishes the Ottawa-based magazine Esprit de Corps, celebrated for its unflinching scrutiny of the Canadian military. He also appears regularly in the Canadian media as a military analyst.
After the Rambouillet peace plan went into effect and Yugoslavian troops began to withdraw from Kosovo, the Western media proclaimed victory over the Serbs. Beneath the jingoism and jubilant headlines, the truth was far more sobering. Throughout the hostilities, NATOs stated objective had been to drive Milosevic from office. As the war wound down, the Alliance said it did not wish to be a co-signatory to a peace plan with a "war criminal." In the end NATO had been forced to negotiate with the Serb leader. Despite the massive 78-day air campaign, the presidency and powers of Slobodan Milosevic remained intact.
The second objective of NATOs air campaign had been the prevention of a humanitarian crisis in Kosovo. In fact, the bombing had triggered a Serbian offensive and a massive exodus of Albanians.
In a deft maneuver, NATO spin-doctors then proclaimed that their air attacks were now necessary to halt a humanitarian crisis. To justify escalating bombardments, NATO spoke of "genocide" and a death toll reaching 100,000.
When NATO forces finally deployed into Kosovo, the cost of their victory became apparent. Contrary to Jamie Sheas assertions, the Yugoslav Army had not been "seriously downgraded." As witnessed by the incoming NATO troops, the Serbs withdrew virtually intact. Since Kosovo remained sovereign Serbian territory, the positioning of NATO troops could hardly be called a "liberation." As for bringing peace and stability to Kosovo, that illusion was shattered when the KLA began a terror campaign of murder and looting against the Serb Kosovars. Hundreds of thousands of Serbs were forced from their homes.
Although the Albanian Kosovars had, with NATOs help, achieved their goal of throwing off the Serbian yoke, their colourful celebrations were premature. There remains the bitter internal fight for political control of an inevitably independent Kosovo. Extremists in the Albanian camp talk not only of "displacing" the remaining 90,000 Serbs, but of a "Greater Albania." This conceptual territory consists of approximately 90,000 square kilometres which, the hardliners say, historically belong to Albanians. At the moment, the landmass of Kosovo and Albania combined does not amount to 50,000 square kilometres. The fact that the remainder of "Greater Albania" lies in Macedonia, Greece, Serbia, Bosnia and Montenegro is not a deterrent.
Having failed to achieve any of their primary objectives, NATO desperately needed to validate their claims of Serbian genocide.
From the moment that NATO-led peacekeepers entered Kosovo, war crimes investigators were dispatched to dig up suspected mass grave sites.
When the first reports were released in November 1999, the forensic teams had probed 40 per cent of the sites. Only 670 bodies had been found. It was proof of ethnic hatred and local acts of terrorism, but it could not be labelled genocide or likened to the Holocaust. Spokespersons for the U.N. War Crimes Tribunal hastened to point out that there were still 60 per cent of the graves to be exhumed, but conceded that the largest and most likely sites had already been examined.
The Trepca mines had been one of the most reported-on sites of alleged genocide. Eyewitnesses in refugee camps had told Western reporters harrowing tales of Serbs bussing Albanians to the mine, slaughtering them and throwing their bodies down the shafts. It was said that these mine pits alone contained more than 700 corpses.
After an extensive search, the U.N. forensic team failed to find a single body. The largest mass grave, uncovered at Ljubenic, revealed only seven corpses not the 350 initially reported.
When a Canadian journalist questioned Defence Minister Art Eggleton on the discrepancy between the U.N.s body count and NATOs earlier claims, he had a ready response. With only a slight rewrite from the original air sortie retort prepared for General Henault, Eggleton looked the reporter in the eye and said sternly, "This is about human tragedy it shouldnt be turned into a numbers game."
During the war, Eggletons air force generals had been quick to point out the important role Canadian pilots played in the air campaign. With a bevy of charts and figures, these commanders had proudly demonstrated that Canada carried out ten per cent of the bombing sorties. However, when the numbers of Yugoslav civilian casualties caused by "illegitimate targeting" were released by the independent Human Rights Watch, no one in the Department of National Defense stepped forward to accept Canadas ten per cent of the responsibility.
By Yugoslavian estimates, our share of that responsibility would amount to 120 dead and 700 permanently disabled civilians. (The lower Human Rights Watch figures would still put Canadas bombing liabilities at 50 killed and 450 seriously injured civilians.) Apparently, what distinguishes NATOs killing and maiming of innocents from Serbian war crimes is that NATO acts in the name of humanity.
As the fog of war lifted, the Canadian Broadcast Corporation aired what amounted to a retraction of one of their Kosovar war stories. During the conflict, a CBC newsmagazine had produced a moving piece on a female guerrilla fighter. Through tears, the young Albanian had explained Serbs had raped and killed her younger sister. Forced to witness the atrocity, she had then enlisted in the KLA.
After the "liberation" of Kosovo, the CBC producer decided to do a follow-up on the young guerrilla fighter. When the television crew arrived, they were shocked to find the "dead" sister very much alive. Asked about the fabrication, the Albanians were unrepentant. "We did what we had to do. We could not beat the Serbs ourselves," they explained.
The CBC was able to admit that they had been tricked into broadcasting pro-Albanian propaganda. Unfortunately, the Canadian government had not been so willing to re-examine its own record on Kosovo. In the turbulent post-conflict period, Canada has continued to demonstrate an anti-Serb bias while simultaneously establishing closer ties with the Albanians. In November 1999, Foreign Affairs Minister Lloyd Axworthy made a visit to Pristina to open a Canadian diplomatic mission in the Kosovo capital.
Although Kosovo remains Serbian territory, Axworthy did not advise the Yugoslav authorities of his visit. The snub was compounded in January 2000, when Canadas former ambassador to Yugoslavia was turned away from our embassy in Belgrade on Axworthys order. Since Ambassador James Bisset had been a vocal opponent of the NATO air attacks, Axworthy apparently thought the Serbs might use the visit for propaganda purposes. As it turned out, the Belgrade press had a field day with Canadas inability to tolerate divergent opinion.
One of the clearest examples of how little the Canadian government understands the complex Kosovo situations can be found in a letter Gerard Proteau received after he wrote to Jean Chrétien. It began: "The Prime Minister has forwarded to me your e-mail message concerning "the increase of Albanian revenge killings in Kosovo." Canada has condemned the terrorist activities of the Kosovo Liberation Army, and the use of violence to achieve a political means. We have urged Kosovar leader Ibrahim Rugova to denounce terrorism and the use of force in the struggle for greater autonomy for Kosovo ." The letter, dated October 22, 1999, was signed by Lloyd Axworthy.
From the outset, Rugova has been the moderate, pacifist voice of the Albanian Kosovar movement. He is vehemently opposed to KLA terrorism and violence. During the bombing campaign, NATO erroneously claimed (and never renounced) that Milosevic had executed him. Hashim Thaci, the leader of the militant KLA faction known as UCK, has pronounced Rugova a traitor and has put him on the list of enemies. Canadian soldiers on patrol in Kosovo are fully aware of the bitter and often violent dispute between Rugovas Democratic League and the UCK. Even the name of the KLA had been changed to the Kosovo Protection Corps (KPC), as the KLA, in theory, had been disbanded and disarmed.
Although we have 1200 soldiers on the ground and a diplomatic mission in Pristina, our political leaders appear to be dangerously ignorant of the major players in the Balkan crisis.
The person Axworthy and Chrétien should be dealing with on the subject of Kosovar violence is none other than the new KPC commander, the infamous Medak-Krajina war criminal, General Agim Ceku.
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