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Thursday, 1 February, 2001, 12:30 GMT
UN stands by Milosevic indictment
Funeral of the Racak victims
Serbs believe a new report exonerates them of Racak

By South-east Europe analyst Gabriel Partos

The UN war crimes tribunal is standing by its indictment of Slobodan Milosevic over a massacre in Kosovo two years ago, despite Serbian claims that Finnish forensic scientists have proved his innocence.

The killing of more than 40 Kosovo Albanians in the village of Racak led to the abortive Rambouillet peace talks, and then to Nato's air strikes against Yugoslavia.

Serbian officials have claimed that a forthcoming article by the Finnish scientists, who examined some of the dead bodies, exonerates Serbian forces.

But a spokeswoman for the tribunal told the BBC she had much more evidence to back up the indictment of ex-President Milosevic and his closest associates.

'Malicious'

The renewed controversy over the Racak killings has been prompted by the pathologists' article, which the BBC has seen ahead of its publication later this month.

Milan Milutinovic
Milan Milutinovic: indicted over Racak
Their findings are inconclusive, prompting Serbian President Milan Milutinovic to claim that attempts to blame Serbs for the killing were "malicious".

Mr Milutinovic is now the only senior Serbian official publicly indicted by the United Nations War Crimes Tribunal still to be holding high office.

Part of that indictment refers to the killings at Racak.

In fact, there is nothing in the article that would either implicate or exonerate Serbian forces in the Racak incident.

Other evidence

Instead, its three authors - Juha Rainio, Kaisa Lalu and Antti Penttila - repeat the findings of their group's preliminary report, published in March 1999 - just a week before Nato's bombing campaign began.


We have much evidence about the mass killings at Racak, and it was and still is in the indictment against Milosevic

UN war crimes tribunal

These say that the scientists could not reach any definitive conclusions about who the killers were.

However, the war crimes tribunal says the Finns' report is only part of its evidence about Racak.

It says it has gathered enough proof to lay the charges for the killings at the door of Mr Milosevic and his associates.

"We have much evidence about the mass killings at Racak, and it was and still is in the indictment against Milosevic," said Florence Hartmann, spokeswoman for the tribunal's chief prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte.

"The evidence we have is not only the report of the Finnish team.

"It is a scientific work but it doesn't give the whole picture of what happened in Racak, and other evidence has been collected by our investigators."

More answers needed

The Finnish forensic scientists had no access to the scene of the crime, and could not verify the "chain of custody" - what happened to the bodies as they were taken from the site of the incident to a forensic institute in the Kosovan capital Pristina.

Carla Del Ponte
Carla Del Ponte: confident can prove Milosevic's guilt

In addition, they only gained access to the bodies a week after the assumed date of the killings on 15 January 1999.

By that time nearly half the autopsies had been performed.

The Finnish scientists say there should be not be any unrealistic expectations about what pathologists can accomplish.

They can determine the cause of death and identify the victims.

But they cannot determine the reasons for a crime, the identity of the killers or the political background to the killings.

That can only be done by investigators who visit the scene of a crime and interview any witnesses to the killings.

The UN tribunal did carry out investigations on the ground following the Serbian forces' withdrawal from Kosovo six months after the Racak killings.

That is one reason why its prosecutors feel confident that they can prove the case against Mr Milosevic, Mr Milutinovic and the other accused - assuming they ever turn up in The Hague.

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See also:

10 Jan 01 | Europe
Milosevic trial: Home or away?
15 Jan 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Yugoslavia
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