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Wednesday, July 14, 1999 Published at 14:44 GMT 15:44 UK


Kosovo waterways bombing a 'war crime'

Burning oil, polluted water: The Balkans will take a long time to recover

By News Online's Alex Kirby

A senior South African Government minister, Professor Kader Asmal, says Nato's bomb damage to water resources in the Balkan war was a crime under international law.

Kosovo: Special Report
Professor Asmal was appointed Minister of Education in June. He had been Minister of Water Affairs and Forestry since 1994.

He was speaking in London, at a symposium on the conflicts provoked by large dams between the needs of development, human rights and environmental protection.

The meeting was organised by the World Commission on Dams (WCD), the Reuters Foundation, and the World Conservation Union.

Professor Asmal, who chaired the symposium and is a lawyer, told a questioner: "The recent bombing of water resources in Europe is very regrettable. It is a war crime".

He did not name Nato specifically, but left no doubt that he had the alliance in mind.

[ image: Professor Kader Asmal accuses Nato]
Professor Kader Asmal accuses Nato
Professor Asmal told BBC News Online: "The Geneva Protocols prohibit attacks on water resources.

"Reservoirs, dams, sewage systems and related resources should never be used like this.

"Part of the reason is because of the risk of escalation in the next conflict."

He added that since the Kosovo campaign, Israel has attacked water resources in Lebanon for the first time in years.

Protecting civilians

Professor Asmal was exiled from South Africa during the apartheid era, and for 27 years was a professor of law at Trinity College, Dublin.

The Geneva Protocols, adopted in 1977, are designed to strengthen the 1949 Conventions on the conduct of warfare.

[ image: Lebanon's turn came soon afterwards]
Lebanon's turn came soon afterwards
They say combatants must not "attack, destroy or render useless objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population, such as foodstuffs, crops, livestock, drinking water installations and supplies".

They also prohibit attacks on dams and dykes if they would result in a threat to civilians.

A report on the environmental impact of the Balkan war was published in June by the Regional Environment Center, a group based in Hungary and part-funded by the European Commission.

It says: "Negative health impacts are expected from damaged infrastructure (water and sewage systems) in Yugoslavia.

"The slow reconstruction of infrastructure (particularly sewers and water treatment) represents a further risk to health."

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